Pregnant women exposed to flame-retardant chemicals could face an increased risk of premature birth, a new study warns.
Organophosphate esters (OPEs) are commonly used as flame retardants in products like furniture, baby items, electronics, clothes and building materials, researchers said. The chemicals also make plastics more flexible.
Manufacturers started using OPEs after flame retardants containing polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) were phased out because of health risks, researchers explained in background notes.
More than 85% of 6,646 pregnant women had three specific makers of OPE exposure in their urine, results show.
Those three substances were associated with shorter pregnancies and higher risk of premature birth, but only among female infants.
Babies born to moms with detectable levels of three other OPE markers tended to have higher birth weights, researchers added.
Infants with elevated birth weight are more likely to experience jaundice, breathing problems or birth defects.
The findings were published Jan. 24 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
“This is another regrettable case where new chemicals were introduced into consumer products without really understanding their health impacts,” researcher Emily Barrett, vice chair of biostatistics and epidemiology at the Rutgers University School of Public Health, said in a university news release. “Knowing now that OPE exposure is associated with adverse birth outcomes, we have to ask ourselves, ‘What are the downstream impacts on children’s health?’”
People are exposed to OPEs by swallowing or breathing indoor dust, or by absorbing chemicals through their skin, the researchers said.
More study is needed to better determine how OPE exposure can affect pregnancy, they added.
“These substances tend to stay in the body for short periods, usually just hours to days,” said lead researcher Deborah Bennett, an exposure scientist at the University of California, Davis. “Conducting more thorough studies with various urine tests can help us figure out how they might be linked to birth outcomes.”
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has more about flame retardants.
SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, Jan. 24, 2024
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