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Chemicals linked to fertility problems

A new study is raising fresh concerns about chemicals long used as flame retardant on carpet padding, furniture, computers and other products commonly found in homes and offices.

The chemicals are called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. They are being phased out in new products. But they are still found in many homes and offices because they were used for so long on household items. As these materials age, they release PBDEs into house dust, creating longlasting exposure. They remain in the body for years. Previous research has found that 97 percent of Americans have detectable levels of the chemicals in their bodies.

Earlier studies have linked the chemicals to reproductive problems in animals. The new study is the first to examine the question in people.

Kim Harley of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues conducted blood tests on 223 pregnant women living in California. They found PBDEs in 95 percent of the samples. But most worrisome, they found that women with higher levels took longer to become pregnant than those with lower levels. They reported their findings in a paper published online by the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The researchers found that women who were actively trying to get pregnant were about half as likely to conceive in any given month if they had high levels of PBDE in their blood.

They stressed that all the women did become pregnant and more research is needed. But they said there was cause for concern, given how common the chemicals are in women's bodies.

By Rob Stein  |  January 27, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Environmental Toxins , Motherhood , Women's Health  
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