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Study links long-term adverse health effects to chemical flame retardants

By Chris Benson
Findings of a new study published Monday link flame retardant chemicals in the United States to a higher risk of dying from cancer-related illness. Photo by hysw001/Pixabay
Findings of a new study published Monday link flame retardant chemicals in the United States to a higher risk of dying from cancer-related illness. Photo by hysw001/Pixabay

April 1 (UPI) -- The findings of a first-of-its-kind study published Monday link flame retardant chemicals in the United States to a higher risk of dying from cancer-related illness.

The research, published in JAMA Network Open, say the findings "have major public health implications" that show people with high PBDE levels have a 300% comparative risk increase of dying from cancer.

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Polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants have largely been banned under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants -- a global treaty entered into by the United States in 2004 that aims "to protect human health and the environment from the effects of persistent organic pollutants."

While past research previously has connected the chemical compounds to heath risk factors, this is the first to directly tie them.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study examining the association of PBDE exposure with risk of cause-specific mortality in the general adult population from the U.S.," the report reads.

PBDEs have been used since the 1970s and are found in plastics, textiles and foam paddings. They also are used in building materials, electronics, motor vehicles, airplanes, polyurethane foams and wire insulation, with the chemical compounds also being traced to dust particles, low weight in newborns and reduced fertility.

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"The new study links PBDEs to deaths from cancer, building a case for the association between flame retardants and cancer mortality being real," Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics and population health at NYU Langone Health in New York City, told CNN.

But the full health effect in humans from PBDE exposure -- with more studies needed -- is still not clear, although evidence is pointing to long-term adverse health effects and "ubiquitous" environmental impact with the United States among the highest of PBDE exposures.

"And because these chemicals have long half-lives and, therefore, stay in the human body for years, this impact is going to continue because we can't get them out of the environment over night," Trasande added.

While there are no federal restrictions on PBDEs in place and despite the 2004 treaty, only 13 states have applied any limitations on the many kind of goods that have those chemicals in them.

The authors of this new study say it "addresses this knowledge gap by finding an association between PBDEs and cancer mortality in adults from the general US population."

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"Despite great concerns, environmental authorities, such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, stated that there are difficulties in classifying PBDEs as human carcinogens due to the inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans," according to the study.

According to a 2020 study, PBDEs have lead to more than 738,000 case of intellectual disability in children, which is one of the biggest contributors to intellectual issues in children.

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