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Flame Retardant Exposure May Harm Fertility

Study Finds High PBDE Levels in Blood Double Time to Get Pregnant

Flame Retardant Exposure and Time to Pregnancy: Expert Views

The new study backs up some lab findings, says Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, which has also studied the compounds.

Of the results, she says: “A 50% decrease in the odds of becoming pregnant is massive."

The study is scientifically sound, says Ruthann Rudel, director of research for Silent Spring Institute, a Boston-based organization that conducts research on environmental factors affecting women's health.

The researchers controlled for other factors that may affect fertility, she says, such as pesticide exposure, and still found an effect of the chemicals.

Flame Retardant Exposure: Industry Weighs In

A representative from the flame retardant industry took exception to the findings. ''The study is limited to penta and octa-[PBDEs] and does not include deca, the only PBDE currently in use," says John Kyte, a spokesman for the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, an industry group based in Washington, D.C.

As a result, he says, ''the study is not applicable to all PBDEs or to PBDEs generally." Each of the PBDE forms is different, he says.

He says penta and octa-PBDEs are no longer in use in the U.S., so exposure to them should decline over time.

Response to Industry View

In response, Harley says that deca (also known as BDE-209) was not measured because the CDC lab didn't have the analytical capability to measure it at the time of the study. ''So we have no idea what the deca levels are in these women," she says.

Although it is true the PBDEs found to be associated with delayed time to pregnancy in her study have been banned, she says many older products still contain the penta chemicals ''and we expect that our exposure to penta will continue over the next several years."

Flame Retardants: Advice for Women

Even though penta and octa-PBDEs have been phased out, Harley says they remain in older household furniture and can still leach out.

She can't specify a ''safe'' level of exposure based on her study, but she and others suggest that women follow a few simple steps to reduce exposure.

Two main sources of the chemicals are found in food and in household products. "Choose meat, fish, and dairy lower in fat," she says. The compounds are fat-soluble, she says.

Don't reupholster foam-filled furniture yourself, Lunder says. The PBDEs are in the foam and can leach out. Limit exposure to old carpet padding, which is often recycled foam, she says.

''When you are replacing carpet, get women and children out of the house," she says. The exposure concern is not limited to its effect on fertility, but also to children's development.

Harley is now focusing on the effects of PBDE exposure on the children.

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