flame retardants and PBDEs

Flame Retardants in Your Furniture Linked to Infertility

New study links a common chemical in the home to fertility problems.

Flame Retardants in Your Furniture Linked to Infertility

Before you buy, find out how that furniture's been treated.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Infertility is a condition that affects around 2 million couples in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it appears that the problem could get worse, thanks to an increasing variety of chemicals used in consumer goods. The chemical used to make nonstick pans has already been linked to infertility in both men and women, and a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives suggests that a common class of flame retardants, used in everything from your car seats to your carpet padding, could be delaying pregnancies as well.

THE DETAILS: Researchers collected blood serum from 343 pregnant women and tested it for 10 different forms of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), chemicals used as flame retardants in furniture, carpeting, and electronics. Those women were pregnant at the time of the study and completed surveys about how long it took them to get pregnant and how long they had tried to conceive. After controlling for factors such as age, reproductive history, and other medical problems, the researchers found that each tenfold increase in PBDE levels in the blood was associated with a 30 percent increase in time-to-pregnancy (the time a couple started trying to the time they conceived).

WHAT IT MEANS: The health affects of flame-retardant chemicals on humans hasn't been well studied, and this study is only one of two that has looked at their influence on people. Previous research on PBDEs in rats suggest the chemicals interfere with thyroid hormones, which play a role in fertility, and that they can affect neurological development. Those studies provided enough evidence of harm that two forms of PBDEs, penta-BDE and octa-BDE (used in upholstered furniture, car padding, and carpeting), have been banned, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that three companies will voluntarily phase out the use of deca-BDE (the form most commonly used in electronics) by 2013. However, such bans and phase-outs may have little effect, considering the flame retardants' widespread use before the bans went into effect and the fact that, once they enter the environment, they never break down. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected PBDEs in 95 percent of Americans tested, and the chemicals have been detected as far away as the Arctic Circle. Perhaps more concerning, say environmental health advocates, is that the replacements for these chemicals aren't adequately studied either, and there's no hard evidence that flame retardants have prevented enough fires to justify the health risks.

Read on to learn how to keep PBDEs out of your home.


Published on: January 31, 2010

I am surprised that even the

I am surprised that even the flame retardants in our furniture can cause infertility. Why does it always seem that scientists can only find negative effects of certain chemicals after we have been using them for a while?

Gee, when will we ever learn

Gee, when will we ever learn. There is much to be said for natural products, such as timber oak furniture and flooring. Many home owners are looking to simplify and provide a home lifestyle that is free of harmful chemicals. There is just one solution that ensures you minimize risk and that is by looking backwards and using materials that our forefathers embraced.

Contemporary Oak Furniture

Flame Retardant Furniture

Has there been any research comparing furniture workers who apply the PBDE and non-workers? Is there a significant increase there, or is their risk equal to the general population?

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