Fire-resistant chemicals used in baby seats and electronics may harm brains of babies and young children, scientists warn

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  • Organophosphate esters are used to make consumer products less flammable
  • Researchers in North Carolina claim chemicals may harm brain development
  • He warned that their use could affect a generation’s IQ, attention and memory

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Scientists warn that fire-resistant chemicals used in electronics, furniture and even child seats can damage children’s brains.

US researchers reviewing dozens of international studies found a link between exposure to organophosphate esters and lower IQ and attention span in youth.


The chemicals were deemed safe by regulators, but research suggests they are neurotoxic and as ‘harmful’ as some banned flame retardants.

Their prominence in a wide range of baby products and building materials could be a threat to ‘an entire generation’ in terms of brain development, scientists say.

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Experts already knew how toxic the chemicals were when used in nerve agents and insecticides, but they were considered safe in manufactured goods.

The scientists published their research in a commentary in the Scientific Journal environmental health perspective Today.

Scientists warn that common chemicals used to prevent fires in TVs and car seats can harm children’s brains [stock image]

Lead author and neuroendocrinologist Heather Patisoul at North Carolina State University said: ‘The use of organophosphate esters in everything from TVs to car seats has grown under the false belief that they are safe.

‘Unfortunately, these chemicals appear to be as harmful as the chemicals they are intended to replace but act by a different mechanism.’

What are organophosphate esters?

Organophosphate esters are chemicals used to make consumer products less flammable, including TVs and car seats.

They were brought in to phase out some halogenated flame retardants, which were shown to be toxic.

The chemicals act by layering on the burning material, stopping the oxygen flames.

Until recently, scientists considered their use as a retardant safe, despite their toxicity when used as fertilizers or nerve agents.

But experts now warn that the way people consume the chemicals can pose a risk to babies and toddlers’ brains.


The researchers revealed that chemicals can be released from the products by going into the surrounding air and dust.

This dust gets transferred to the hands of the people who touch them, which people unknowingly ingest while eating.

Babies and toddlers are especially vulnerable because of the amount of hands they put in their mouths.

The researchers found that the youth had a higher concentration of dangerous chemicals in their systems.

Brain development is at its weakest at a young age, which means that chemicals can have a worse effect on them than in adults.

Co-author Linda Birnbaum said: ‘Organophosphate esters pose a threat to brain development across generations.

‘If we do not ban their use now, the consequences will be dire and irreversible.’

Scientists are calling on industries to stop using chemicals where their presence is not necessary.

They advise governments and industry to invest in alternative technologies to reduce the flammability of electronic products.

Co-author Carol Kwiatkowski said: ‘Organophosphate esters in many products perform no essential function, posing a serious risk, especially to our children.

‘It is imperative that product manufacturers critically re-evaluate the use of organophosphate ester flame retardants and plasticizers – many can do more harm than good.’


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