Want a Baby? Avoid PBDEs

01.27.10 Study finds these everyday chemicals used as flame retardants hinder chances of conceiving

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California researchers are sounding the alarm, ladies—listen up. Women exposed to high levels of flame retardants take substantially longer to get pregnant, indicating for the first time that the commonly used chemicals may be affecting fertility, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The chemicals in question, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are usually found in furniture cushions, carpet padding, electronics and other household items.

The University of California, Berkeley, study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that 97 percent of the 223 participating pregnant women had PBDEs in their blood, and those with high levels were half as likely to conceive in any given month as the women with low PBDE levels. The women were not infertile and successfully became pregnant after an average of several months.

How the chemicals impair fertility is unclear, the study said. But environmental experts in the past have said PBDEs are linked to a variety of health problems, including the disruption of the thyroid, which plays an important role in fertility. More research is needed to establish a definite link, it said.

Experts say there are more than 200 different PBDE formulations, but only three (pentaBDE, octaBDE and decaBDE) are developed for manufacturers' use. PentaBDE and octaBDE have been banned in the U.S. since 2004, but there are still plenty of pre-2004 products in use. U.S. manufacturers have been asked to phase out the last one, decaBDE, by 2013.

The study says the best way to reduce your exposure to PBDEs is by lowering your contact with house dust and PBDE-laden products.

When you're expecting, your immediate environment is more important than ever. PBDEs can also affect your baby—the chemicals cross the placenta, transfer through breast milk and are absorbed from the gases that vaporize from household products. The effects, of course, depend on the amount of your exposure over time. To lessen you and your baby's toxic load, try our Thinking Green tips to make your space a healthier place.

Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.