Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Flame Retardant Chemicals and Autism? No Clear Connection

Article first published as Flame Retardant Chemicals and Autism? No Clear Connection on Technorati.

Boy with Autism riding the carousel at the San Francisco ZooWhile reading my daily articles I came across an article in the Press Release section of the San Francisco Chronicle called "Study: Autism Linked to Flame Retardants - The Futon Shop's Chemical Free Mattresses are the Next Step in Helping to Reduce Rates of Autism". It sites a research study done by Irva Hertz-Piccotto, Ph.D. chief of the division of Environmental Health at the University of California Davis that supposedly proved a connection between PBDE's, which are flame-retardant chemicals used in furniture (and other things), and Autism. It's a PR piece done by a furniture company that doesn't use PBDE's, and so they are trying to "inform" (or better yet, scare) consumers into purchasing their products.

Anytime I see any claims like this, red flags fly all over the place. I found it interesting that so important an environmental connection as this would be so unknown, and only first published by a furniture company. Nope, something wasn't right. So I pulled open Google Scholar, and searched for the research paper.

It wasn't easy to find, but I found the article in the journal Environmental Health (2011, 10:1). The article is located here:, if you care to read through it yourself. The research project was more of a survey, looking to compare PBDE concentrations in children with Autism and those in the control group. The qualifiers were that though current levels could be influenced by a number of conditions (such as diet, current exposure, previous exposure, etc.), the hope was a possible connection between fetal exposure to PBDE's through the mother would reflect an environmental cause for Autism.

The research pulled plasma samples from the Autism group and the control group. Their PBDE concentrations were tested, and compared. The results? "Children with autism/autism spectrum disorder and developmental delay were similar to typically developing controls for all PBDE congeners, but levels were high for all three groups." So, based on this research, there was no difference between concentrations of PBDE's and a correlation between PBDE's and Autism. Now, that doesn't mean there isn't any possible environmental triggers or causes, but it just points out that the possibility of a connection between PBDE's and Autism are remote.

So, to the Futon Shop, the company that made the claim, I would say they need to check their sources a little closer before they try to use scare tactics to sell their products. I'm all for naturally produced and protected products, but I'm not a big fan of using Fear, Uncertainty, and Disinformation by any company to induce sales.

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