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.
Filed Under: HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS
Published on: January 31, 2010