New US research has found that exposure to a common type of flame retardant could affect the chance of pregnancy and live birth in women undergoing fertility treatment. Carried out by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the study is the first to look at a potential link between organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs) and pregnancy in women.

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PFRs are used in polyurethane foam in many products, including upholstered furniture, baby products, and gym mats. They were introduced as a safer alternative to the flame retardant PentaBDE, which has not been used for more than a decade after it was found to have negative effects on health.



However, despite the belief that PFRs are safer, previous research has shown that they can disrupt animal hormones and can leach out of products into the air of indoor environments. For the new research, the team looked at urine samples from 211 women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center between 2005 and 2015.

Other factors including maternal age and race, smoking history, and body mass index (BMI) were also taken into account. The analysis showed traces of three PFRs -- TDCIPP, TPHP, and mono-ITP -- in more than 80% of participants.

The team also found that on average, the women with higher urinary concentrations had a 10% reduced probability of successful fertilization, a 31% reduced probability of implantation of the embryo, and a 41% and 38% decrease in clinical pregnancy (fetal heartbeat confirmed by ultrasound) and live birth when compared to women with lower concentrations.



"These findings suggest that exposure to PFRs may be one of many risk factors for lower reproductive success," said first author Courtney Carignan. "They also add to the body of evidence indicating a need to reduce the use of these flame retardants and identify safer alternatives."

The results could be particularly significant as one in six couples will face problems with fertility -- a number that is also likely to increase as couples in developed countries choose to wait until later in life to have a child. The team now believe that further research is needed to look into the potential effect of flame retardant chemicals on men's reproductive outcomes, as well as the effect of exposure to various different types of environmental chemicals on both men and women.

The study can be found published online in Environmental Health Perspectives


This story was first seen on AFP Relax News, Aug 25, 2017.