Flame retardants may hinder infertility treatments, study suggests
Researchers have linked higher exposure to a type of flame retardant to a greater likelihood that in vitro fertilization (IVF) won't work.
"Couples undergoing IVF and trying to improve their chances of success by reducing their exposure to environmental chemicals may want to opt for products that are flame retardant-free," said senior study author Russ Hauser. He is a professor of reproductive physiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
The study is said to be the first to look at possible connections between pregnancy and exposure to organophosphate flame retardants, also known as PFRs. These are used in the manufacturing of polyurethane foam products, and are found in upholstered furniture, baby supplies, yoga and gym mats.
"These findings suggest that exposure to PFRs may be one of many risk factors for lower reproductive success," study first author Courtney Carignan, a research fellow at Harvard, said in a school news release. "They also add to the body of evidence indicating a need to reduce the use of these flame retardants and identify safer alternatives."
PFRs first appeared in polyurethane foam products as an alternative to another flame retardant that was believed to be unsafe, the researchers said. However, evidence has suggested that PFRs disrupt hormones in animals, and can enter the air and dust indoors.
For the new study, the researchers analyzed urine samples from 211 women who were undergoing in-vitro fertilization at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center between 2005 and 2015.
After adjusting their statistics to compensate for other factors, the investigators found that women whose urine showed signs of more exposure to the flame retardants were 10 percent less likely, on average, to achieve successful fertilization. They were also 31 percent less likely to have an embryo implanted, 41 percent less likely to become pregnant and 38 percent less likely to give birth to a live child, the study authors said.
The study doesn't prove that exposure to flame retardants caused a lower likelihood of pregnancy and birth. It's also not clear what role flame retardant exposure may play in male fertility.
Funded by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the study was published online Aug. 25 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
For more about flame retardants, visit the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.