Prenatal Chemical Exposure May Affect Neurodevelopment

HealthDay News — Prenatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a man-made compound used as a flame retardant in plastics and textiles, is associated with lower IQ and higher hyperactivity scores in children at age 5 years, according to researchers.

“PBDEs are persistent chemicals that were widely used as flame retardants in furniture, carpet padding, car seats, and other consumer products over the past three decades,” Aimen Chen, MD, PhD, of the University of Cincinnati, and colleagues reported in Environmental Health Perspectives.

They measured serum concentrations of tetrabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-47) and other PBDE congeners in a prospective birth cohort of 309 women at 16 weeks of gestation, and examined cognitive function and behaviors in the children from ages 1 through 5 years to assess the association between prenatal PBDE exposure and child neurodevelopment.

The researchers found that, at age 1 to 3 years, serum prenatal BDE-47 concentration was not significantly associated with child abilities on the Bayley Mental or Psychomotor Development Indices.

However, at age 5 years, a 10-fold increase in prenatal BDE-47 was associated with a decrease in Full Scale IQ (4.5-point decrease; 95% CI: −8.8 to −0.1) and an increase in hyperactivity score (3.3-point increase; 95% CI: 0.3 to 6.3).

“Prenatal exposure to PBDEs was associated with lower IQ and higher hyperactivity scores in children,” the researchers found.


  1. Chen A et al. Environ Health Perspect; doi:10.1289/ehp.1307562.