Chemicals in Flame Retardants Linked to Increased Preterm Birth Risk: Study

Exposure to high levels of flame retardants during pregnancy may increase a woman’s risk of having a preterm birth, according to the findings of new research.

In a study published by the Journal of Reproductive Immunology, researchers from the Women’s and Children’s Research Laboratory in Mineola, New York analyzed amniotic fluid and cord blood samples from pregnant women admitted to the hospital for delivery. Those with higher levels of flame retardant chemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), were found to be more likely to give birth to a premature baby.

Researchers quantified levels of PBDE-47, the most common type of flame retardant, and categorized the pregnant women’s levels as very low, low, medium, high or very high.

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Women who had very high levels of PBDE-47 flame retardants had a much greater risk of delivering preterm, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, than women who had very low or low levels.

PBDEs have been widely used in commercial products over the past 40 years as flame retardants; yet the effects on pregnancy have gone widely unknown.

Researchers believe PBDEs may cause or enhance inflammation in the placenta, which can result in preterm birth and increase the risk of health complications for the child.

Since all women are exposed to PBDEs during pregnancy in some form and to some degree, varying levels of PBDEs have been detected in amniotic fluid, umbilical cord tissue, fetal tissue and breast milk.

Last June, Kaiser Permanente announced that it will no longer purchase furniture made with flame retardants, following a growing number of studies linking the chemicals to health risks.

The announcement came just days after a new study suggested that fetuses exposed to PBDEs during the early weeks of pregnancy were more likely to have a lowered IQ by the age of 5. The chemical was also found to affect hyperactivity in children.

The toxic chemicals have also been implicated in other health problems in the past, including reproductive issues, developmental delays and cancer.

Last year, California updated flammability laws for furniture which were enacted in the 1970s. The updated laws offer manufacturers the ability to meet flammability standards without the use of chemical retardants, which some studies have found to offer no significant benefit in fire safety performance, but does not ban their use.

More than 15 million infants are born prematurely every year worldwide. Preterm birth can lead to an infant experiencing breathing problems, respiratory distress, heart problems, brain hemorrhage, gastrointestinal issues, anemia, jaundice, weakened immune system, cerebral palsy, vision problems, hearing loss and may even result in death.

PBDEs are used in furniture, clothing, especially infant clothing, construction materials and electronic appliances. The chemicals have even been detected in household dust and clothes dryer lint.


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