Common flame retardants used in car seats, home furniture, electronics and gym mats have been linked to lower fertility rates in women, according to a new study which finds that women with higher exposure levels of organophosphate flame retardants have up to a 41 per cent less chance of clinical pregnancy and a 38 per cent decrease in the chance of live birth.
The use of chemical compounds as flame retardants in products manufacturing has a dubious history. For many years, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were the go-to agents, until regulatorsmbanned them for toxicity starting in the late 1970s. Next came PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), which research again linked to health problems such as hormone disruption, neurological mimpairment, hearing loss, cancer and birth defects.
Those findings led to the replacement of PBDEs with organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs), which are now commonly found in the polyurethane foams that are found not only in a range of everyday household items such as upholstered furniture, baby products and gym mats but aremmore widely applied in the production of dyes, varnishes, adhesives, plastics and textiles.
Now, research is showing that PRFs come with their own health implications. A new study from the Harvard T.H. Chang School of Public Health in Boston looked at urine samples from 211 women undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment at the Massachusetts General Hospital between 2005 and 2015.
Researchers found metabolite traces of PFRs in the urine of 80 per cent of the participants and determined that compared to women with lower concentrations of PFR metabolites, those with higher concentrations had a 10 per cent reduced probability of successful fertilization, a 31 per cent reduced probability of implantation of the embryo, a 41 per cent decrease in clinical pregnancy (meaning, a fetal heartbeat detected by ultrasound) and a 38 per cent decrease in the chance of live birth.
"These findings suggest that exposure to PFRs may be one of many risk factors for lower reproductive success," says Courtney Carignan, Ph.D., research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and study co-author in a press release. "They also add to the body of evidence indicating a need to reduce the use of these flame retardants and identify safer alternatives."
In 2009, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants declared that PBDEs met the criteria for being labelled as persistent organic pollutants, namely, that they are toxic, they can accumulate in the food chain, they are persistent in the environment and can travel long distances.
Now, research is showing that PFRs have the same ominous qualities. Scientists have found concentrations of PRFs in the air and water of the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean, for example, that are actually five to ten times higher than concentrations for PBDEs.
Researchers speculate that the compounds can travel such long distances and remain in the environment due to their ability to attach to solid particles in the air, keeping them from being broken down in the presence of sunlight.