A decade later, banned chemicals still passing through umbilical cord

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Trace amounts of flame retardants, banned in the US for more than a decade, are still being passed through umbilical cord blood from mothers to their babies, according to Indiana University research. The chemicals are linked to health concerns including hormone disruption and low birth weight.

PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, were commonly used flame retardants in building materials, electronics and textiles until they were banned in 2004. The chemicals leach into the environment, where they persist and are found today in virtually every population worldwide.

The research, conducted by a team of scientists including Amina Salamova of the IU School of the Public and Environmental Affairs, is believed to be among the few in the US to detect the presence of PBDEs in samples drawn from matched mother-infant umbilical cord blood.

“What is especially concerning is that we found consistently higher levels of PBDEs in the infant of each mother-infant pair, suggesting the babies have higher circulating concentrations of these potentially neurotoxic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals compared with their mothers,” Salamova said.

The researchers found especially high levels of the chemical BDE-47 in infant blood. That’s consistent with other studies and could be the result of its use until 2004 by manufacturers of sofas, mattresses and other foam-filled household products that are still in many homes today.

The samples were drawn from 10 mother-infant pairs at the University of Tennessee Medical Centre in Knoxville. An additional tube of blood was drawn from the mothers once they were in active labor. At delivery, an additional tube of cord blood was obtained.

The scientists found the PBDEs in the blood serum, the clear liquid that can be separated from clotted blood. Although this work did not determine whether the babies exposed to the chemicals have been harmed, the research group emphasised the importance of developing such research.

“Long-term follow-up studies of newborns are essential to determine if there are differences in health based on PBDE levels,” Salamova said. “These findings underscore the importance of families reducing the sources of dangerous flame retardants in their homes because, over time, what’s in a house can end up in a mother’s body.”

Abstract
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are commonly used flame retardants in foams, building material, electronics, and textiles. These chemicals leach into the environment, where they persist, and are found today in virtually every population worldwide. Several studies in recent years have detected the presence of PBDEs in maternal and infant samples. However, few of these studies were conducted in the U.S., and few examined paired or matched mother blood-cord blood samples. We analyzed serum from 10 mother-infant pairs for the presence of PBDEs in a patient population in the Southeastern U.S. Out of 35 measured PBDE congeners, five (BDE-28, -47, -99, -100, and -153) were present, with detection frequencies of 65–100 %. The total PBDE concentrations in maternal and infant sera were highly correlated (r2 = 0.710, p = 0.0043). The levels of BDE-47, -99, and -100 and of total PBDEs were higher in the infant cord sera when compared with those in maternal sera (p < 0.017), suggesting that fetuses and neonates might have higher circulating concentrations of these potentially neurotoxic and endocrine disrupting chemicals compared with their mothers. The primary focus henceforward should be whether there are any deleterious effects from exposure to these chemicals on human health.

Authors
Paul Terry, Craig V Towers, Liang-Ying Liu, Angela A Peverly, Jiangang Chen, Amina Salamova

Indiana University material
Journal of Environmental Health Research abstract


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