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Exposure to flame retardants during pregnancy may increase the risk of premature birth

Experts worry about the long-term impacts on kids’ health and well-being

Photo (c) Burak Karademir - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the NYU School of Medicine explored the negative health risks associated with pregnant women’s exposure to flame retardants

According to their findings, exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) during pregnancy may increase the risk of premature birth. PBDEs are often used in products around the home to prevent the likelihood of a fire; however, the researchers worry about how the chemicals will affect kids’ health long term. 

“Our findings illustrate that flame retardants may have a tremendous impact on childbirth even if exposure occurred early on in the pregnancy,” said researcher Morgan Peltier, Ph.D. “Although PBDE chemicals are used with good intentions, they may pose a serious health concern that may have lasting consequences for children.” 

Protecting kids’ long-term health

To understand the effects of PBDE exposure on pregnancy, the researchers analyzed blood samples from over 3,500 pregnant women. The women were divided into groups based on the levels of PBDEs that were in their blood, and the researchers also assessed other risk factors -- like age and smoking status -- that could contribute to premature delivery. 

The study showed a clear link between women with the highest levels of PBDEs and those that had premature births. Compared to women with the lowest chemical exposure, those with the highest traces of PBDEs in their blood were 75 percent more likely to have a premature delivery. 

The researchers determined that the threshold of exposure to PBDEs was 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood; when pregnant women’s exposure exceeded that figure, premature birth was more likely. Surpassing that benchmark of chemical exposure also complicated women’s otherwise healthy pregnancies and increased the likelihood of procedures like C-sections and induced labor.

Long term, the researchers worry about how this exposure to PBDEs during pregnancy will affect kids’ health. While premature birth comes with risks, chemical exposure in utero may add to those risks beyond the infant years. 

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