[Pharmwaste] A flame retardant commonly found in vintage furniture may be affecting human sperm

Deborah DeBiasi deborah.debiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Thu Jun 11 09:27:36 EDT 2020


[image: https://www.salon.com/design/images/icon_red-s.svg]

*Vintage sofa in living-room (Getty Images/ Iuliia Zavalishina) *

*A flame retardant commonly found in vintage furniture may be affecting
human sperm*

*The foam in old furniture may contain biphenyl-153, which decreases sperm
quality and can cause birth defects*

*Matthew Rozsa <https://www.salon.com/writer/matthew_rozsa> *

*June 10, 2020 11:52PM (UTC)*

A new study reveals that polybrominated biphenyl-153 (PBB-153) — a flame
retardant <https://www.salon.com/2010/06/10/dangers_flame_retardants/>
present in older consumer products, which has been banned since 1976
<https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tfacts68.pdf> — may cause serious birth
defects by altering the genetic code in sperm. The new study into
this common household chemical raises questions about the present-day
consequences of corporate malfeasance nearly half a century ago.

Polybrominated biphenyls
tend to resemble white, off-white or beige powders at room temperature.
Currently, biphenyl-153 is only manufactured in a very limited capacity,
such as in electronics and electronic products sold in the European Union.
In the past, however, biphenyl-153 was commonly used as a fire retardant in
products like automobile upholstery, lacquers and coatings, as well as a
flame retardant additive in molded plastics, textiles and synthetic fibers.
Application of PBB and similar chemicals as flame retardants began in
earnest after the Flammable Fabrics Act
<https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/chapter-25> was amended in

Because these chemicals were so prevalent in consumer goods and did not
stay within the confines of their application, the chemicals seeped into
the environment. As they take a notoriously long time to break down, these
pollutants are still accumulating today. The Centers for Disease Control
notes <https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PBDEs_FactSheet.html> that both
PBBs and a related group of chemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs
can be found
in "furniture foam padding; wire insulation; rugs, draperies, and
upholstery; and plastic cabinets for televisions, personal computers, and
small appliances."

As they leached out of household goods, PBBs began to be discovered in many
places where they were not intended to be: meat and meat products, milk and
dairy products, air, soil, fish and shellfish, and dust. Environmental
Working Group, a nonprofit science foundation, studied the blood of 38
mothers and children and found that all 38 had PBB-153
in their blood.

There are also concerns
that PBB-153 and another group of man-made chemicals, diethylhexyl
phthalate (DEHP), could be responsible for the 50 percent global reduction
in human sperm quality over the past 80 years. The same reduction in sperm
quality has been observed by domesticated dogs. DEHP is present in carpets,
floor tiles, furniture upholstery, rainwear, shoes, shower curtains,
tablecloths and toys. According to the National Center for Biotechnology
Information <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4348733/>,
"because flame retardants are not chemically bonded to the foam [in
products where they are used], they are able to escape into the surrounding
environment." This is why people are especially likely to be exposed to
dangerous flame retardant chemicals when they are indoors, or touching
older couches that may have foam padding that is likely to have been
treated with PBB-153 or similar chemicals.

The recent study
<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-65593-x?draft=collection> on
PBB-153, which was published in the academic journal Scientific Reports and
authored by University of Georgia environmental health science doctoral
student Katherine Watkins Greeson, follows up on a scandal that occurred in
1973. In an incident known as "Cattlegate," a flame retardant known as
FireMaster that contained PBB-153 was accidentally sent to state grain
mills in Michigan and eventually entered the local food supply. The company
that manufactured FireMaster, Velsicol Chemical Company, also manufactured
a nutritional supplement called NutriMaster, and the two were mistaken
<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-65593-x> at the factory.

Experts believe that as many as 6.5 million Michiganders were exposed to
PBB-153 as a result of this incident, and scientists have hypothesized that
illnesses such as cancers, skin discoloration, joint pain, headaches and
dizziness resulted from it. There were also a number of birth defects that
seemed to be linked to the chemical, including hernias and scrotum buildup
for boys and a higher rate of miscarriages or stillborn births for girls.

"Though it has been nearly 45 years since the accident, people who were
exposed through the consumption of contaminated animal products and those
exposed in utero and through breastmilk still have circulating levels of
PBBs," the authors of the study wrote
<https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-65593-x?draft=collection#Sec5>. "As
recently as 2015, 60% of tested members of the PBB Registry have elevated
levels of PBB above the ninety-fifth percentile of the U.S. population. The
half-life of PBB is estimated to be between 10 and 29 years, which may
explain why people are still experiencing health issues related to this

The authors added that, through their research, they had learned that PBBs
altered sperm in a way that "has the potential to cause diseases in
offspring," including "improper parent-of-origin gene imprinting in
offspring" which can cause diseases like Silver-Russell Syndrome. They also
pointed to the specific ways that sperm are compromised by the chemical as
an explanation for why "the children of people directly exposed to PBB
during the initial exposure have different health effects compared to their
parents, including reproductive problems."

Speaking to a news outlet for the University of Georgia, Greeson explained
<https://news.uga.edu/study-birth-defects-flame-retardant/> that "hopefully
this work will lead to more studies combining epidemiology and bench
science in the future, which will tell us more about why we're seeing an
effect from an environmental exposure in human populations and encourage
experimental studies to more closely mimic human exposures."

Deborah L. DeBiasi

*Email:   Deborah.DeBiasi at deq.virginia.gov
<Deborah.DeBiasi at deq.virginia.gov>*WEB site address:  www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Office of Water Permits
State Coordinator for Industrial Pretreatment/Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET)
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents



Mail:          P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218
Location:  1111 E. Main Street, Suite 1400  Richmond, VA  23219
PH:         804-698-4028            FAX:  804-698-4178
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