Flame retardants may be linked to infertility, a new study suggests
Sarah Knapton, science editor 25 AUGUST 2017 • 5:00AM
Couples undergoing IVF have been advised to choose products without flame retardants after a study suggested chemicals included in products to stop fire may prevent pregnancy.
Researchers at Harvard University looked at urine samples from 211 women who were undergoing fertility treatments Massachusetts General Hospital in the US.
They found that eight in 10 women had traces of flame retardant chemicals in their samples, but those with the highest levels were around 40 per cent less likely to become pregnant or have a live birth.
“Couples undergoing IVF and trying to improve their chances of success by reducing their exposure to environmental chemicals may want to opt for products that are flame-retardant free,” said senior author Dr Russ Hauser, Professor of reproductive physiology, of the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
Women with the highest levels of flame retardant chemicals in their urine struggled to get pregnant
The study is the first to examine the link between fertility and organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs) — which are used in polyurethane foam in many products, including upholstered furniture, computer casings and gym mats.
PFRs were introduced as a safer alternative to brominated flame retardants which were phased out in the 1990s over fears they were toxic to health and the environment.
However the new study suggests they could he having a damaging impact on fertility. Animal studies had already suggested that PFRscould disrupt hormones in animals, and also migrate out of furniture into household dust and air.
“These findings suggest that exposure to PFRs may be one of many risk factors for lower reproductive success,” said first author Courtney Carignan, a research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard.
“They also add to the body of evidence indicating a need to reduce the use of these flame retardants and identify safer alternatives.”
One in six couples struggles with infertility and previous studies have linked the problem with exposure to products containing hormone-disrupting chemicals, such as pesticides and phthalates, which makes plastic bendy.
The researchers now want to examine whether exposure to flame retardants could also impact fertility for men.
The research was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.