PROTECT Study finds increased levels of flame retardant and plasticizing chemicals associated with the use of personal care products among pregnant women in Puerto Rico.

In a recent Study published in Environmental Research Journal, PROTECT researchers detected metabolites of several organophosphate esters (OPE), a class of chemicals used in consumer products as flame retardants and plasticizers, in urine samples collected from women during pregnancy in Puerto Rico. This is concerning since some OPEs have been associated with adverse reproductive health outcomes and endocrine disruption.

The team analyzed urine samples and used OPE metabolites as a biomarker to measure substances in the body whose presence is indicative of an environmental exposure, disease, or infection.  Metabolites are defined as any substance produced during metabolism.  Metabolites can be the result of the breakdown of nutrition, drugs or exposure to environmental chemicals.  The measurement of certain metabolites is used to estimate the level of chemicals in our bodies.

Graph of % Change in DPHP (an OPE Metabolite) associated with household and personal care products among cohort of Puerto Rican Women.

The study showed that suntan lotion use was associated with a 110% increase in BDCPP concentrations in urine.  DPHP concentrations increased 51% with reported perfume use and 49% with nail polish use. Reported used of pesticides in the home was associated with a 46% increase in BCPP. Lead author and  Project 1 Trainee Mary Ingle explained  that, “our findings suggest that pregnant women in Puerto Rico are commonly exposed to OPEs, chemicals used as flame retardants and plasticizers that have been associated with adverse reproductive health effects,” such as preterm birth.  BDCPP, DPHP, and BCPP are metabolites of OPEs which are used as flame retardants and plasticizers.  OPEs have been associated with endocrine disruption and preterm birth..

Ingle further elaborated, “OPEs are rapidly broken down once inside the body, therefore we measure their respective metabolite concentrations rather than the parent compound.  Also, rapidly metabolized chemicals are expelled from the body very quickly, so measurement of metabolites in urine is preferred to other commonly used biometrics like plasma. Also, to test for any associations between consumer product use and concentrations detected in urine, it is important to ask about products used (through a questionnaire) within 48 hours prior to urine sample collection.”

This study was one of the first to look at biomarkers of OPE exposure in relation to usage of a wide variety of products through a questionnaire. Ingle added that “Unfortunately, ingredient and product labels do not typically identify if a product contains OPEs.” Additionally, UMICH Researcher and co-author Deborah Watkins elaborated, “although not examined in this study, new flame-retardant standards in 2014 do require that furniture be labeled as either containing or not containing flame retardants. This allows consumers able to buy new furniture to potentially limit their exposure to OPEs through this pathway.”