In a world permeated with chemicals, toddlers' penchant for crawling on floors, chewing on assorted objects and touching everything within reach expose their bodies to a disproportionate amount of toxic pollutants.
That's the conclusion of a study released today by the Environmental Working Group in Oakland, which monitored 20 pairs of moms and their young children. The group reported that the children, on average, carried more than three times the amount of flame retardants in their blood than their mothers.
It's only the second study to examine this chemical load in U.S. toddlers, and breaks new ground in taking a national glimpse at its prevalence.
MediaNews, in its 2005 series "A Body's Burden," first opened researchers' eyes to the particular perils faced by young children in a world where more than 80,000 chemicals are found in all manner of products.
This latest research, which focused on blood levels of flame retardants in samplings of mothers and toddlers across the country, dovetails with findings of the award-winning newspaper series by reporter Douglas Fischer, according to Linda Birnbaum, a senior toxicologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The series reported that a 20-month-old boy and his 5-year-old sister consistently bore higher levels of flame retardants and other chemicals in their bodies in comparison with their parents. The results were condensed into a journal article, published in 2006 by the National Institutes of Health, and it's now cited in scientific literature.
"Not only does this (new) study agree with what we saw with the Fischer study," said Birnbaum, "but it indicates that children and teenagers have (higher levels of chemicals) than adults."
She added, "This is not something we would have predicted a few years ago."
The new study found that in 19 of the 20 families, concentrations of flame retardants were significantly higher in children than in their mothers. In all, 11 different types of flame retardants were found in these children.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts periodic monitoring of blood levels for more than 140 chemicals in a cross section of adults across the United States, analyses of young children hasn't been part of that effort.
But it should be, insists Dr. Anila Jacob, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group's Washington, D.C., office.
"Children are so much more vulnerable to toxic chemicals," she said, describing animal studies linking permanent changes in growing brains with exposure to flame retardants.