Flame Retardants Found In Thousands Of Products Linked To Cancer

By Bill Galluccio

April 1, 2024

Flame resistant label attached to furniture
Photo: Anthony Boulton / iStock / Getty Images

A new study has identified a link between flame retardants used in thousands of common consumer products and cancer. A team of researchers analyzed the levels of the fire-resistant chemicals known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers( PBDEs) in the blood of 1,100 people between 2003 and 2004.

Between 15 and 17 years later, the researchers followed up with the group and found that 199 people had died. When they compared the levels of PBDEs in their blood, they found that those with higher levels had a 300% greater risk of dying from cancer than those with lower levels.

"In this cohort study of a nationally representative sample, we found that PBDE exposure was significantly and positively associated with cancer mortality in adults. The association persisted after adjustment for demographics, socioeconomic status, dietary and lifestyle factors, and BMI," the researchers wrote.

"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 US."

While most PBDEs are banned in 13 states and in Europe, they can still be found in thousands of everyday items, including furniture, products made from flexible plastics, linens, home appliances, and electronics. There are no federal restrictions on the use of PBDEs.

"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. "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 overnight."

Trasande was not involved in the study.

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