Even if you think you’re doing good by reducing chemicals in your home, kids may be getting even bigger doses of toxic dust at school or daycare. New research from the University of Birmingham in England found that daycare centers and classrooms are a significant source of exposure to flame retardants and polycholorinated biphenyls (PCBs) for children from 1 to 6-years-old. In many cases, readings were higher than those from car dust or house dust. Food and air pollution are often the biggest sources of chemical exposure, but inadvertent dust ingestion is a risk particular for kids who crawl on floors and often stick their fingers in their mouths.

Since kids spend a lot of time in classroom settings, this raises a red flag. Researchers looked for seven PCBs and three main types of brominated flame retardants: hexabromocyclododecane (HCBD), a derivative of bisphenol-A tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBP-A), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are now banned, yet they were still detected in all of the 43 United Kingdom classrooms tested.

HBCD is one of the biggest concerns. The chemical was detected in all dust samples and levels were significantly higher than those recorded in homes and offices. Even though animal studies have linked HBCD exposure to endocrine disruption, the largely used flame retardant is currently unrestricted in the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom. The chemical has been identified as a concern under REACH, a new European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use.

Unfortunately, toxic chemicals are hard to avoid entirely. Flame retardants are used in almost every type of consumer product to help reduce or prevent them from catching on fire. Fabrics, carpets and furniture typically contain a flame retardant. Even computers and electronics contain the chemicals. The problem begins through use — as you sit on your couch or type on your keyboard, the toxic chemicals are released into the air where they become part of dust.

While the research is a cause for concern to scientists, the health effects of long term exposure to these toxic chemicals are largely unknown. Though some flame retardants have been shown to adversely affect the nervous system and reproduction.

Levels of PCBs in the UK daycare centers and schools were similar to concentrations reported in UK homes. However, according to Environmental Health News, data suggests the PCB levels in US daycare centers are higher and may pose a bigger threat to kid’s health. The chemicals are used in construction materials such as sealers and as those materials break down, the toxins can pollute indoor air. This study just adds fuel to the fire for the push to look for eco-friendly building solutions and non-toxic products to keep our families healthy.

Images: smithereen11, anissat