09:34am Wednesday 20 November 2019

Chemicals Previously Used in Furniture Detected in Women’s Bodies 10 Years After Ban

California study suggests banning of toxic flame retardant chemicals is not enough to protect against exposure. 

FREMONT, CA — In response to health concerns and widespread exposures, two formulations of flame retardant additives used in many consumer products and building materials were banned in California in 2006.

The chemicals called Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) were broadly used to treat polyurethane foam cushioning in furniture and carpet padding, hard plastic casings in computers and other electronic appliances and equipment, textiles, adhesives and wire insulation. It has been suggested that PBDEs may potentially cause cancer and other adverse health effects.

In a study led by Susan Hurley of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and epublished in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers detected a modest increase in the levels of PBDEs found in the blood of California women collected over a four year period, beginning approximately five years after these compounds were banned.

According to Susan Hurley, “While earlier research indicated that the banning of these chemicals was successful at reducing human exposures, the results from our study suggest that we should be careful not to declare victory too soon.”

As one of the largest studies on this topic to date, the analysis included 1,253 women between the ages of 40-94 who were participating in the California Teachers Study, an-ongoing statewide study of female professional public school employees initiated in 1995 primarily to study breast cancer. Participants in the current study were restricted to those without breast cancer.

The results of this study stand in contrast to earlier studies that indicated some initial declines in body burden levels shortly after the compounds were banned. Earlier studies, however, primarily focused on much younger women. Thus, it is possible that the lack of declines in the current study reflect differences in how older women metabolize and eliminate these chemicals from their bodies. An alternative explanation is that the way people are being exposed may have recently shifted.

As the first study to show increases in PBDEs in blood since the U.S. ban, the authors note the value of biomonitoring in better understanding how people are currently being exposed. “If replicated by other studies, our findings underscore the need to evaluate additional regulatory efforts to safely manage the disposal of PBDE-laden products to mitigate human exposures” adds Susan Hurley.

Like PCBs, DDTs and other chemicals that do not break down easily, we will have PBDEs in our bodies for decades” said Myrto Petreas, one of the co-authors of the study. According to Meredith Williams (not involved in the study) “PBDEs are classic examples of chemicals that were used before we had a full understanding of the harm they could cause. Our Safer Consumer Products Program intends to promote safer chemicals as substitutes for hazardous ingredients in consumer products.”

Other researchers who participated in this study are Peggy Reynolds of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and Stanford University, Debbie Goldberg and David O. Nelson of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, Myrto Petreas, June-Soo Park, Weihong Guo, Hyoung-Gee Baek, and Yunzhu Wang of the Department of Toxic Substances Control of the California Environmental Protection Agency, Leslie Bernstein of City of Hope, and Hoda Anton-Culver of UC Irvine.

This research was supported by funds provided by The Regents of the University of California, California Breast Cancer Research Program, Grant Number 16ZB-8501 and National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Grant R01 CA77398. 

About the Cancer Prevention Institute of California

The Cancer Prevention Institute of California is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing cancer and to reducing its burden where it cannot yet be prevented. We are the only freestanding research institution working solely to prevent cancer using extensive population data. Our researchers study a wide range of cancer risk factors, such as racial/ethnic background, socioeconomic status, age, occupation, gender, genetic predisposition, geographic location, environment and lifestyle to determine how these factors affect frequency, distribution and types of cancers. For more information, visit the CPIC website at www.cpic.org.

Media Contact:

Donna Lock, 510-608-5160 | donna.lock@cpic.org

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