A new study carried out by researchers at Harvard University suggests that organophosphate Flame Retardants (PFRs) used in gym mats, furniture, and a variety of other products could be making women infertile, and women trying to improve their chance of conceiving should avoid products using these chemicals.

Researchers examined urine samples of women undergoing IVF

In this study, researchers examined urine samples of 211 women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) at Fertility Clinic in Massachusetts General Hospital between 2005 and 2015. These women had enrolled in the Environment and Reproductive Health study that aimed to analyze the impact of different chemicals and lifestyle on reproductive health of women.

Researchers observed that about 80 percent of the samples had traces of three PFRs— TPHP, TDCIPP, and mono-ITP. They also found that women with highest levels of these chemicals were 38 percent less likely to conceive or have a live birth after a cycle of IVF treatment. These women also had 10 percent less probability of successful fertilization and 31% less probability of a successful embryo implantation.

The study suggests a possible link between fertility and PFRs

According to researchers, this is the first study analyzing the link between fertility and PFRs. While this study doesn’t prove that PFRs are causing infertility, it does suggest a possible link between them. PFRs were introduced in the early 1990s to replace brominated flame retardants that were found to be toxic to environment and for human health.

Brominated flame retardants were eventually phased out in the US. Presently, PFRs are used in a variety of products including gym mats, computer casings, baby products and furniture.

Dr Courtney Carignan, the first author of the study and a researcher at Harvard, said the latest results indicate that exposure to PFRs could be a risk factor for lower reproductive success, and there is a need to search for better alternatives of this chemical.

Professor Russ Hauser of Harvard University’s school of public health believes there is strong evidence to advise prospective couples about avoiding exposure to PFRs that can also spread from furniture into the air in a room. They become more harmful after creating a cocktail of hormone-disturbing chemicals, when coming in contact with pesticides and phthalates used in most modern houses.

Harvard researchers now plan to analyze the impact of flame retardants’ exposure on men’s fertility in next part of their study.

This study was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and its detailed findings were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.