PhD conferral Eva J. Sugeng



Aula, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Flame retardant exposure in young children and the role of toddler-like behavior

Eva J. Sugeng

Prof.dr. M. Eck van der Sluijs - van de Bor, copromotor Prof.dr. P.E.G. Leonards

Amsterdam Institute of Molecular and Life Sciences


PhD conferral

Toddlers: they crawl, mouth hands and toys and play close to the floor. This behavior increases the risk to eat house dust and associated chemicals such as flame retardants. Flame retardant chemicals are used in many consumer products, e.g. furniture and electronic devices, in order to prevent spread of fire. Some flame retardants have adverse health effects, such as disturbing the hormone balance. A disturbed hormone balance affects the developing brain of a young child.

In her PhD research at the department Environment & Health Eva Sugeng aimed to investigate the role of toddler-like behavior, such as crawling, and factors in the indoor environment that enhanced or decreased exposure to flame retardants. In addition, exposure in relation to ADHD-like symptoms was assessed. It was found that toddlers who play with electronics more frequently had higher flame retardant levels on their hands. Flame retardant levels in house dust were increased in households with more hours of operation of TV’s and game consoles, and older TV’s. Frequent dusting and vacuum cleaning decreased the levels of flame retardants in household dust.

Children with higher flame retardant concentrations in house dust had more ADHD-like behavior, but this relation was not found for the flame retardants on the hands. We expected that children who crawl and frequently touch the floor would have higher levels of flame retardants on their hands in comparison to children who already walk. This was not found and it is possible that children not only eat house dust by hand-to-mouth contact, but also inhale flame retardants by dust and by air. Moreover, exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals already starts in the mother’s womb. Disturbance of the hormone balance has likely already started before toddlerhood.

Do flame retardants more harm than good? The effectiveness of flame retardants preventing spread of fire is disputable and it is questionable if flame retardants are always needed, or whether there are saver alternatives for fire prevention.