Flame retardant chemicals linked to lower birth weight babies

A new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley””s School of Public Health, has indicated that exposure during pregnancy to flame retardant chemicals commonly found in the home is linked to lower birth weight babies.

In the study researchers found that every tenfold increase in levels of PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, in a mother””s blood during pregnancy corresponded to a 115 gram (4.1 ounce) drop in her baby””s birthweight.

“This is the first, large population-based study to link PBDEs with babies”” birth outcomes,” said study lead author Kim Harley, adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health and associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children””s Health (CERCH) at UC Berkeley.

“A 115-gram decrease in weight is a fairly significant finding. By way of comparison, consider that smoking during pregnancy is associated with about a 150- to 250-gram decrease in birthweight,” added Harley.

The researchers are careful to point out that, while the study found a decrease in birthweight overall, very few babies in the study were born weighing less than 2,500 grams (5.5 pounds), the clinical definition of low birthweight. Low birthweight babies are more likely to experience social and cognitive delays in development.

“This was a very healthy population, and we didn””t see many low birthweight babies. What we saw was a shift toward lighter babies among women with higher PBDE exposure rather than a dramatic increase in the number of low birthweight babies,” said Harley.

The current study examined PBDEs found in the PentaBDE flame retardant mixture. These chemicals are commonly found in foam furniture, baby products and carpet padding.

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The study has been detailed in American Journal of Epidemiology.

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