First, that facts: Autism is an extremely complicated disorder with no one known cause. However, recent studies have led scientists to “believe that genetic factors and brain changes triggered by man-made chemicals in the environment are equally to blame for the development of autism in young children.”
Certain chemicals that persist in the environment, including flame-retardants and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), are believed to interfere with the genes associated with building neurological networks, thus possibly contributing to autism.
A study was performed on mice (sad, yes, but not as sad as the thought of innocent children developing autism as a result of exposure to household chemicals) in which they were exposed to a common flame-retardant and PCB “at minute levels that matched human exposures.” This affected both the sociability and learning behavior of these mice.
(To read more, see this article in the Irish Times.)
Now, what you can do:
1) Know your enemy: where are the chemicals hiding?
- Flame retardants in electronics: TVs, cell phones, fax machines, remote controls, video equipment, printers, photocopiers, toner cartridges, scanners.
- Flame retardants in household items: kitchen appliances, fans, heaters or hair dryers, water heaters, and lamp sockets.
- Flame retardants in furniture: most furniture and mattresses.
- Flame retardants in cars: electronic components, automobile fabrics, plastics and electronics.
- PCBs: the most likely exposure to PCBs is from food, particularly fish.
2) You know the saying “keep your friends close but your enemies closer”? It does not apply to chemicals. Avoid flame retardants and PCBs at all costs.
- Prevent young children from touching fire-retardant items as much as possible, and wash their hands prior to eating. Especially do not let them put these items in their mouths (every time I see a toddler playing with cellphone I cringe! Don’t them hold it, I don’t care if they throw a tantrum!).
- Be a smart consumer: before purchasing new items, particularly furniture, ask if they are flame retardant-free.
- If you can afford it, buy an organic baby mattress made from wool. A cheaper option is to choose products with a polyester fill since polyester is treated with a silicone barrier and passes the flammability standard without containing any chemicals.
- Dust and vacuum often as dust contains flame retardant particulates. Use a HEPA vacuum filter if you can afford it.
- Create barriers between kids and items containing flame retardants: put a blanket between your child and the car seat; dress kids in snug cotton pajamas and wash often.
- Immediately repair or replace worn out foam items. Do not attempt to reupholster foam furniture.
- Avoiding eating the skin or fatty bottom portion of salmon if you are pregnant (as farm-fed salmon often contain PCBs, which are stored in fat).