Chemicals commonly used in flame retardants can lead to diabetes in the offspring of female mice exposed to them, according to a study published in Scientific Reports. The substances are known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
For the study, the scientists exposed mice to low levels of PBDEs during their pregnancy and lactation. The levels are believed to be comparable to average human environmental exposure during a similar period. While some of the mouse mothers developed glucose intolerance, their female offsprings were significantly more affected by glucose intolerance, which is a hallmark of diabetes in humans.
“This study is unique because we tested both the mothers and their offspring for all the hallmarks of diabetes exhibited in humans,” corresponding author of the study Dr Margarita Curras-Collazo, from UC Riverside (UCR), said in a statement. “This kind of testing has not been done before, especially on female offspring.”
PBDEs are found in furniture, upholstery, and electronics. They are only loosely bound to surfaces so they can easily lift into the air of homes, cars, and planes. The European Union has banned these chemicals and a voluntary phase-out of production in the US was started in 2005. Despite these efforts, the chemicals will continue to be prevalent until at least 2050.
“PBDEs are everywhere in the home. They’re impossible to completely avoid,” said Curras-Collazo. “Even though the most harmful PBDEs have been banned from production and import into the U.S., inadequate recycling of products that contain them has continued to leach PBDEs into water, soil, and air. As a result, researchers continue to find them in human blood, fat, fetal tissues, as well as maternal breast milk in countries worldwide.”
The team suggest not buying products containing PBDEs as well as practicing good hygiene such as washing hands before eating and vacuuming often to reduce environmental exposure. More research is needed to understand if these findings translate to humans and, if so, what the consequences are of being exposed to these chemicals in the womb and in early life.