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Banned Flame Retardants Found in Pregnant California Women

Two pregnant women (Michelle Tribe/Flickr)In a pilot study of pregnant women in California, researchers at University of California in San Francisco have found high levels of flame-retardant chemicals that have been outlawed in the U.S. and Europe. The team’s findings appear online in the journal Environmental Science and Technology (free registration required).

The researchers, led by Tracey Woodruff, director of  UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, tested 25 women in their second trimester from the northern and central parts of California, seeking medical care in San Francisco in 2008-2009. The results showed the median concentrations of lower-brominated polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and hydroxylated PBDE metabolites were the highest reported to date in pregnant women.

Manufacturers of furniture and mattresses added PBDEs to their products beginning in the 1970s. PBDEs are have also been used in plastics for appliances and computers. The Environmental Protection Agency says the chemicals can slow the starting of a fire and the rate of its growth, and as a result provide more escape time in the event of a fire.

However, PBDEs persist in the environment and accumulate in living organisms. In addition, these chemicals have been associated with liver and thyroid toxicity, and neurodevelopmental disorders. Preliminary data from the pilot study found that higher PBDE levels in the pregnant women were associated with thyroid hormone disruption.

The state of California in 2004 outlawed the use of pentaBDE used in furniture foam and octaBDE used in appliances and electronics, as has the European Union. “Despite the ban, blood levels of flame retardant chemicals are two times higher for California residents than for people in the rest of the country,” says Ami Zota, the paper’s lead author, which is “likely because our state has the most restrictive flammability requirements nationally.”

Read more: Nanotech Coating Helps Reduce Flames in Polyurethane Foam

Photo: Michelle Tribe/Flickr

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