Flame Retardants and Baby Weight

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers exposure can lead to babies with lower birth weight

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Most expecting moms are willing to do almost anything to ensure delivering a healthy baby. What if environmental factors are fighting against her desire?

In a newly published study, researchers found that with every tenfold increase in levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in a mother's blood during pregnancy a baby's birth weight decreased by 4.1 ounces. High levels of PBDEs are often found in house dust.

"Wet mop and dust around your home when pregnant."

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 reports that this is the first large study to link babies' birth weight to fetal PBDE exposure.

She finds the 4.1 ounce decrease in weight a significant difference. Smoking mothers, Harley points out, give birth to babies that on average, weigh 5.35 ounces less than babies of non-smoking mothers.

The 4.1 ounce decrease in birth weight is significant because most of these mothers came from a low-income situation and possibly didn't receive quality prenatal care.

Brenda Eskenazi, UC Berkeley professor of epidemiology and of maternal and child health at the School of Public Health reports that that evidence points to PBDE exposure being harmful to humans. Furthermore, the evidence that supports PBDEs are protective of home fires is quite slim. Eskenazi encourages researchers to develop non-chemical measures to protect homes against fire.

While PBDEs were phased out starting in 2004, these chemicals have been replaced by new chemicals, and they aren't adequately studied either, in her opinion.

In this study, blood samples were taken to measure the PBDE levels in 286 mostly latina pregnant women who were part of the CHAMACOS study. After accounting for other factors that might affect the baby's birth weight, including smoking, alcohol, drugs and body mass index, the study found the mom's with higher PBDE levels in their blood had offspring who weighed less.

Most of the mothers in the study were recent immigrants from Mexico and had PBDE concentrations comparable to the general U.S. population.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 31, 2011
Last Updated:
September 4, 2011