Commonly used flame retardant linked to cancer risk

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PBDEs are used in thousands of consumer products

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a class of flame-retardant chemicals that can be found in thousands of consumer products. Everything from carpets, drapes, computers, and small appliances contain PBDEs. On top of that, they can get into the air, water, and soil. 

Now, a new study, for the first time, is linking exposure to these chemicals with a higher risk of cancer. PBDEs were found to increase the risk of all cancers and cancer-related mortality. 

“In this nationally representative cohort study, PBDE exposure was significantly associated with an increased risk of cancer mortality,” the researchers wrote. “Further studies are needed to replicate the findings and determine the underlying mechanisms.” 

What are the health risks? 

To better understand how PBDEs can impact health, the researchers analyzed data from people over the age of 20 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 to 2004. The researchers analyzed the blood test results of the 1,100 participants to determine the levels of PBDE exposure.  

Ultimately, participants who had the greatest exposure to PBDE also had the highest risk of death from cancer. Compared to those with the lowest levels of PBDE, the researchers found that those with the highest serum PBDE levels had a 300% higher risk of death from cancer. 

The researchers also found that this statistic held up regardless of several factors, including age, race, sex, physical activity, diet quality or obesity status. It was unclear from the study if certain types of cancer carried a greater risk than others. 

'Major public health implications'

Greater exposure to the chemical was not linked with higher increases in death from any cause or cardiovascular-related death. 

“Our findings have major public health implications,” the researchers wrote. “Although PBDEs are mostly banned today under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, their production and use are still ongoing in some regions. For example, only 13 states in the U.S. have applied limitations on using PBDEs in certain goods, but no federal restrictions are in place.” 

The researchers hope more research is done in this area to get a more in-depth understanding of how these chemicals are harmful to consumers’ health and longevity. 

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