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Flame Retardant Exposure May Harm Fertility

Study Finds High PBDE Levels in Blood Double Time to Get Pregnant
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Flame Retardants and Fertility: Study Details continued...

Exactly how the chemicals may affect time to pregnancy isn't known, but experts say one way may be to disrupt thyroid functioning. Low and high thyroid levels can alter normal menstrual patterns and thus affect fertility.

The women's levels, overall in the study, were actually a bit lower than the national average, Harley says. She notes that about 97% of Americans have detectable PBDE levels in their blood, citing a survey. Californians are likely to have the highest levels because of the state's strict flammability requirements for products.

The women in the study were living in a low-income, predominantly Mexican-immigrant community. Most were recent immigrants from Mexico, where PBDE use is lower, she says.

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."

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