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Researchers analyzed blood samples from pregnant women when they were admitted to hospital for delivery. Those with higher levels of flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies were more likely to have preterm babies (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) than those with lower levels of the chemicals, the investigators found.
"Nearly all women have some amount of exposure to flame-retardant chemicals. Many people have no idea that these chemicals can be found on many common items, including household dust and clothes dryer lint," study author Dr. Ramkumar Menon, an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said in a university news release.
Flame retardants have been widely used for four decades in home construction, furniture, clothing and electronic appliances, and they have been found in amniotic fluid, umbilical cord tissue, fetal tissue and breast milk, the study authors said.
More than 15 million babies around the world are born prematurely every year. About 1 million of these babies die shortly after birth, making preterm birth the second-leading cause of death in children under 5, the researchers added.
"Since stopping the use or exposure of flame retardants during pregnancy is not likely, our laboratory is currently studying the mechanisms by which flame retardants cause preterm birth," Menon said.
While the study found an association between exposure to flame-retardant chemicals and premature birth, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.
The study was published Jan. 28 in the Journal of Reproductive Immunology.
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SOURCE: University of Texas, news release, Jan. 28, 2015