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Flame retardant ban reduces levels in pregnant women

A new study has suggested that phasing out the use of potentially harmful flame retardants in furniture foam, electronics and plastics may be having a positive impact on pregnant women and newborns' exposure to the chemicals.

From the 1970s, manufacturers commonly used flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in electrics, furniture and plastics. But these retardants were found to pose potentially serious health issues to pregnant women and their infants.

In 2011, blog reported on a study showing evidence that some PBDEs may be undermining thyroid hormone signaling throughout a woman's pregnancy - something which could affect the brain development of the fetus.

Previous evidence has also suggested that exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy, even at low levels, can result in a child experiencing learning and concentration difficulties later in life.

The production of these chemicals ceased in the US in 2004. But until now, it has been unclear whether this has had an impact on human exposure.

Researchers from George Washington University and the University of California, San Francisco/Davis, decided to find out whether human exposure to these chemicals has reduced. Their findings were published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The research team analyzed the blood samples of 25 pregnant women who visited San Francisco General Hospital between 2008 and 2009, in order to test for the presence of five different PBDEs. These were compared with the blood samples of 36 pregnant women who visited the hospital between 2011 and 2012.

Significant reduction in PBDE exposure
The ban on flame retardants, commonly used on furniture, has had a positive impact on chemical exposure for pregnant women and their babies, the study shows.

Results of the analysis showed that the level of PBDEs in blood samples reduced by 65% between 2008 and 2011, which suggests, the researchers note, that the ban of the chemicals is having a positive impact on the level of exposure.

They say that every woman who was tested between 2008 and 2009 had all five PBDEs measured present in their blood. But the women tested between 2011 and 2012 only showed one.

However, the study authors point out that these substances can remain in the environment for a long time.

There are still many older products around that contain the chemicals. They can degrade into household dust and even find their way into food products. Taking this into consideration, the researchers say it is very likely that exposure will continue.

Furthermore, although the use of PBDEs has been banned, other chemicals have been substituted in the manufacturing of furniture as a way of meeting fire safety standards. Chlorinated Tris, one chemical currently being used, is a suspected carcinogen - a substance thought to be involved in causing cancer.

The researchers note that this research emphasizes the importance of biomonitoring - measuring the presence of these potentially harmful substances in the human body - as a way of tracking changes in levels of these chemicals in the human population.

They add that this information is valuable in shaping public health policy.

blog recently reported on a study that uncovered the presence of a hormone-disrupting chemical in bottled water.

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