Women With High PBDE Levels 50 Percent Slower to Conceive, New Study Says

pregnancy fertility PBDEs fire retardants study photo

Photo by daviddesign via Flickr.

Guest blogger Cara Smusiak is a journalist and regular contributor to NaturallySavvy.com's Naturally Green section.

Having trouble getting pregnant? If you've gotten the caffeine habit under control and are managing your stress, the culprit might just be your mattress or carpet.

A new study out of University of California at Berkeley and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reveals women with higher levels of PBDEs in their blood took longer to conceive than women with lower levels of PBDEs in their blood. PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are a group of chemicals, of which three are used commercially as fire retardants in a variety of household products.Among women in the study who were actively trying to get pregnant, researchers found the likelihood of conceiving in a given month was cut in half if a woman had high PBDE levels in her blood.

Kim Harley, the study's lead author and adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health and associate director of the Center for Children's Environmental Health Research at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, says the research is the first to look at the impact of PBDEs on human fertility :

There have been numerous animal studies that have found a range of health effects from exposure to PBDEs, but very little research has been done in humans. This latest paper is the first to address the impact on human fertility, and the results are surprisingly strong. These findings need to be replicated, but they have important implications for regulators.

It's important to note that the study did not look at the relationship between PBDEs and infertility; all women in the study did get pregnant. But in a press release, the lead author said if they had included infertile couples in the study, "it is possible that we would have seen an even stronger effect from PBDE exposure."

Many PBDEs are being phased out in the U.S., but the problem will persist because many products are still in the home says Brenda Eskenazi, the study's principal investigator and UC Berkeley professor of epidemiology and of maternal and child health at the School of Public Health.

Of course, there's also the problem of the unknown health effects of the brominated compounds that are replacing PBDEs, says Harley:

We know even less about the newer flame retardant chemicals that are coming out. We just don't have the human studies yet to show that they are safe.

Researchers could not explain how PBDEs impacted fertility, but they did note that there was no link between PBDE exposure and irregular menstrual cycles.

More on PBDEs
DDT Redux: PBDEs in Peregrine Falcons Close to Levels Damaging Developing Lab Rats & Mice
Blood Levels of Flame Retardants Correlate with House Dust Exposure
Earthtalk: Fire Retardant Dangers

Related Content on Treehugger.com