A recent study from the University of Texas Medical Branch found that exposure to flame-retardants, specifically polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) increases the risk for preterm births.
The research team led by Dr. Ramkumar Menon, assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology, in collaboration with Winthrop University Hospital and the Kaiser Permenante Southern California Medical Group, examined samples from pregnant women during labour that subsequently had term or preterm birth (PTB).
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been widely used as flame-retardants in home construction, furniture, clothing, and electronic appliances and nearly all women have some level of exposure. PBDEs have been isolated from amniotic fluid and cord plasma indicating vertical transmission. However, their effects on pregnancy outcome remain unclear.
“Nearly all women have some amount of exposure to flame-retardant chemicals,” said Menon in a recent news release. “Many people have no idea that these chemicals can be found on many common items, including household dust and clothes dryer lint.”
Data analysis revealed that pregnant women with high or very high PBDE-47 concentrations had 5.6 times more odds for PTB than women with very low levels of PBDE-47. After adjusting maternal race, age and marital status, the results appeared to be even more significant.
The research team concluded that high levels of maternal exposure to PBDEs increase the risk of preterm birth. However, Menon and colleagues regard the need of prospective studies to confirm these results and the need to identify potential mechanism(s) by which these organic pollutants are found in pregnant women that may increase the risk of PTB.
“Since stopping the use or exposure of flame-retardants during pregnancy is not likely, our laboratory is currently studying the mechanisms by which flame retardants cause preterm birth,” said Menon in the news release. “Understanding these mechanisms might help us to reduce the incidence of preterm birth caused by flame retardants.”
The study entitled “Does exposure to flame retardants increase the risk for preterm birth?” was published in the current issue of the Journal of Reproductive Immunology.