Many young children in the U.S. attend preschools and day care centers, but these places aren't exactly the safest places for young kids, at least in terms of exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals. Findings of a new study showed evidence that child care centers contain levels of flame-retardant chemicals, which are known to pose health hazards.

Flame retardant chemicals have been associated with hormone imbalance and lowered IQ in children. Studies also show that the chemical can cause low birth weight and cancer. Green Science Policy Institute director Arlene Blum said that the impact of these chemicals in young children raises concern because their body is still developing.

For the new study published in the journal Chemosphere on May 15, researchers collected air and floor dust samples from 40 child centers that cater to over 1,700 children and tested these samples for flame retardant chemicals including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and tris phosphate compounds.

The researchers found that all of the dust samples they gathered for analysis contain both PBDEs albeit the levels were lower in air dust samples. They also observed that the concentration of the chemicals were highest in schools that use foam napping mats and upholstered furniture.

The high levels of flame retardants found in childcare centers may have come from the foam in furniture and the mats that the children use, opined Blum, who was not involved in the study. Of the child centers covered by the researchers, 29 had upholstered furniture and 17 had foam-based sleeping mats.

The concentration of the chemicals, however, were fairly the same as those found in most homes and this is likely because flame retardant chemicals have been popularly used for many years in polyurethane foam that were stuffed inside upholstered furniture.

"These findings underscore how widespread these materials are in indoor environments," said study researcher Asa Bradman, from the Center for Children's Environmental Health Research at the University of California, Berkeley. "Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of environmental contaminants, so we should be particularly careful to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals."

Bradman said that exposure to flame retardant chemicals can be reduced by daily cleaning with vacuum using HEPA filter and with mop and frequent washing of hands. Bradman also suggested opting for products that are flame-retardant free when buying furniture.

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