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Exposure to fireproof chemicals found in everything from pajamas, sofas and electronics may cause birth defects and pregnancy problems – and scientists say they are unavoidable

Fireproof chemicals found in furniture, clothes and many household items may cause obesity in children, scientists have warned.

Researchers studied thousands of cases and found a ‘compelling’ link between overweight youngsters and mothers who were exposed to organophosphate esters (OPEs) when they were pregnant.

The chemicals, introduced in the mid-2000s to replace toxic alternatives, are used to make textiles, children’s toys, building materials, TVs and household appliances fireproof.

They are also added to some plastic items, such as food containers, to make them more flexible.

OPEs slowly degrade and become dust, so individuals can be exposed to them through their skin or by inhaling indoor dust.

Researchers found they can affect thyroid hormone levels and cause inflammation in pregnant women, leading to high birth weight and premature births.

High birth weight is associated with childhood obesity, which increases the risk of health conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Scientists said it’s virtually impossible for consumers to avoid the chemicals – and suggested they should be banned.

Researcher Jiwon Oh, of the University of California, said: ‘Our findings guide our understanding of how these chemicals may be silently seeding lasting challenges for the health of the next generation.

‘Because OPEs are from building materials, textiles, electronics and other products, consumers cannot choose products that do not contain OPEs. Only policy changes and regulations can mitigate their exposure.’

Deborah Bennett added: ‘There were over 6,000 pregnancies included in this study, so we are very confident of our findings. Policy options to reduce exposure to organophosphate ester flame retardants should be considered.’

The new study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, is the largest of its kind into the effect of OPEs.

Experts looked at mothers who showed signs of OPE exposure in their urine.

Previous studies have found exposure to OPEs may also be linked to lower IQ and attention span in children.

What are organophosphate esters?

Organophosphate esters are chemicals used to make consumer products including TVs and car seats less flammable.

They were brought in to replace phased out some halogenated flame retardents which were shown to be toxic.

The chemicals work by char layer on burning materials, preventing oxygen stoking flames. 

Up until recently, scientists considered their use as a retardant safe, despite their toxicity when used as fertilizer or nerve agents already well known.

But experts now warn they could pose a threat to babies’ and childrens’ brains because of the way the chemicals are ingested by people. 


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