Flame retardant exposure linked to reduced fertility

These compounds are found in foam furniture, electronics, carpets, and other common items in the home. (AP)

January 26, 2010 7:23:35 PM PST
New research indicates a link between flame retardants and fertility. A UC Berkeley study found women exposed to higher levels of PBDEs were less likely to conceive. It's a substance commonly found in furniture, carpets and bedding.

PBDEs are found in foam furniture, electronics, fabric, and other items in the home. They leach out into the environment and are found in house dust.

For this study, more than 200 women were asked how long it took them to get pregnant and then researchers took blood samples.

"Women with higher levels had 30 to 50 percent lower odds of conceiving every month," the study's lead author Kim Harley, Ph.D. said.

The women in the study were from an agricultural community in the Salinas Valley. So how much of their inability to get pregnant was due to their exposure to pesticides?

"In our analysis of PBDEs in fertility, we took their pesticide exposure into account, so the effect that we saw, the association we saw with PBDEs is independent of their pesticide exposure," Harley said.

But some fertility experts dispute these findings.

"Maybe this is really something that affects sperm, not the women themselves. Secondly, what if this population has higher rate of infectious disease damage? And so as a result they have damage to their tubes or the pelvis," Dr. Carl Herbert from the Pacific Fertility Center said.

PBDEs have been used since the early 1970s when new fire safety standards were implemented in the U.S.

In 2007, California almost did away with these flame retardants in furniture and bedding but the Legislature turned the bill down.

Here's what you can do at home.

"Lower your exposure in house dust in your home, so that might mean mopping with a wet mop to reduce dust levels or vacuuming with a vacuum with a filter," Harley said.

The lead researcher acknowledges more studies should be conducted in other populations to make sure these finding hold.