By Nadia Moredo, LAc, FABORM
We’ve been hearing for years about BPA and phthalates in plastics having a negative impact on hormones and fertility. At East Bay Acupuncture and Natural Medicine we advise our patients to avoid plastics when possible, because not enough research has been done on each chemical substance in plastics to know how it is affecting our bodies.
Now, new research is showing that currently used flame retardants can have a negative effect on fertility and hormonal health. Some common items that have flame retardants added to them are sofas, carpet and mattress pads.The current flame retardants in use are PFRs, or organophosphate flame retardants, and the good news is that PFRs clear from our bodies quickly.
The prior chemical flame retardant PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, were longer lasting in the body, and thereby harder for our systems to eliminate when in our household items. There has been research showing a clear link between PBDEs and decreased fertility, so they were discontinued from household products.Now new research is showing that PFRs may be having similar effects.
The 2017 Harvard study cited below focused on women going through IVF, and the incidence of successful fertilization, embryo implantation, and clinical pregnancy. Researchers looked at PFR metabolites in the women’s urine, and those with higher concentrations had a decreased incidence of the events listed above.
More research needs to be done, but researchers believe that PFRs interfere with fertility by disrupting the endocrine system and affecting hormones, which could have more far reaching implications with regards to other diseases. Researchers also called for studies to be done on PFR’s effect on men’s fertility.
One of the main takeaways from this study is that more than 80% of women in the study had evidence of PFRs in their urine, but only the women with higher concentrations had lower fertility. Therefore, reducing exposure to these chemicals is key. Because there are so many types of flame retardants, and because the safety of most is controversial, we recommend playing it safe and avoiding them all when possible.
Here are some practical ways to minimize your exposure to flame retardants:
- Always wash hands before eating! We often think about washing our hands if we have been outside or touched something dirty, but washing hands can also wash off chemicals that we have been in contact with around the house. PFRs in household items often migrate into dust in our homes. A simple soap and water wash can reduce the amount of flame retardants that come into our bodies.
- Vacuum floors with a HEPA filter vacuum; mop and wipe surfaces down with a damp cloth to minimize dust contaminated with PFRs around the house. You can also check out our article on safe and effective household cleaning products here.
- When purchasing new furniture, and especially baby items, inquire and ensure that there are no flame retardants in them. This is especially true for sofas, foam mattresses, baby changing pads, car seats, baby mattresses, and nursing pillows. Check labels on the items you buy, and:
- Steer clear if you see “TB 117” on the tag. This definitely contains flame retardants. If your household items contain this label, consider replacing them.
- Be aware if you see “TB 117-2013” on the tag. These items may or may not contain flame retardants, and the best way to investigate is to call the manufacturer directly.
- California Senate Bill 1019 now requires a label that will clearly tell us whether or not flame retardants are used in the product. The tag you will find on furniture made and sold in California after 2014 contains the following message: “The upholstery materials in this product: ___ contain added flame retardant chemicals OR ___ contain NO added flame retardant chemicals. The State of California has updated the flammability standard and determined that the fire safety requirements for this product can be met without adding flame retardant chemicals. The state has identified many flame retardant chemicals as being known to, or strongly suspected of, adversely impacting human health or development.”
Finding furniture and other items made without flame retardants can be a challenge. Some stores that sell some flame retardant-free furniture are:
- Crate and Barrel
- West Elm
- Ashley Furniture
But keep in mind that you must still check tags, because many of the products sold at each store will not be free of flame retardants.
While this can feel like alarming news, there is a lot we can do to minimize our exposure to harmful chemicals, and more that we can do to recover once we find that our bodies are affected. Opting for glass and stainless steel food and drink containers can minimize our exposure to phthalates and BPA, using chemical-free beauty and cleaning products can reduce our absorption of chemicals, and eating fresh and frozen foods can reduce our exposure to BPA in tin can linings. Please check out our related articles on green living and detoxification here.
The cumulative effect of reducing our chemical exposure in different aspects of our lives can have profound effects on health and fertility. Keeping our bodies healthy can optimize eliminating the chemicals we will inevitably be exposed to. Moderate exercise, fresh, healthy food and water, managing stress and illness can all aid our body in processing and eliminating what we do not need.
Urinary Concentrations of Organophosphate Flame Retardant Metabolites and Pregnancy Outcomes among Women Undergoing in Vitro Fertilization,” Courtney C. Carignan, Lidia Mínguez-Alarcón, Craig M. Butt, Paige L. Williams, John D. Meeker, Heather M. Stapleton, Thomas L. Toth, Jennifer B. Ford, and Russ Hauser, Environmental Health Perspectives, August 25, 2017, doi: 10.1289/EHP1021