Brominated flame retardants are used in many everyday objects even though they have been widely regulated since the early 2000s. A recent study in mice associates exposure in utero and during lactation to these products. chemicals at a risk of diabetes as the offspring grows. Other work must be carried out to confirm these results, but this is not the first time that this hypothesis has been raised.


Brominated flame retardants (RFBs) are mixtures of chemicals that make many products less flammable: in addition to reducing the flammability of an element, these substances are intended to slow the spread of fire. These are mixtures of man-made chemicals added to a variety of products commonly used in plastics, textiles, and electrical and electronic equipment. As EFSA * explains, in the EU the use of certain BFRs is prohibited or restricted but due to their persistence in the environment there are still concerns about the risks they pose to public health .

 In fact, products treated with BFR release substances that infiltrate into the environment (soil, water, etc.) and their semi-volatile nature promotes their emission into the air. Although few “studies have been carried out to estimate the health impact of exposure to BFRs, a few do exist. »Public Health France notes on the subject. And this especially on diabetes, a risk once again mentioned in a study conducted by researchers at the University of California - Riverside. Published in Scientific Reports, it claims that flame retardants found in almost every home cause mice to give birth to offspring that becomes diabetic.

 Chemicals found in fetal tissue and breast milk

Flame retardants have been linked to diabetes in adult humans, but this study is the first to show that they can cause diabetes in mice exposed to these chemicals through their mothers. “The mice were exposed to BFRs through their mothers while they were in the womb and as young babies through breast milk. », Explains Prof. Elena Kozlova, lead author of the study. “In adulthood, long after exposure to chemicals, female offspring developed diabetes. The researchers looked at the most common BFRs added to furniture, upholstery, and electronics to prevent fires.

These products are likely to be released into the air people breathe at home, in their cars, or even on airplanes because their chemical bond to surfaces is weak. “Even if the most harmful are banned, the inadequate recycling of products containing them means they are found in water, soil and air. As a result, they continue to be found in human blood, fetal tissue and breast milk in countries around the world. “, Emphasize the researchers. Given this earlier association with diabetes, they wanted to understand whether these chemicals could have harmful effects on children of mothers exposed to BFR.

 How to avoid flame retardants on a daily basis

“This study is unique because we tested both dams and their offspring for all of the characteristics of diabetes presented in humans. This kind of test has not been done before, especially on female offspring. “, Add the researchers. These exposed mice to low levels of BFR comparable to the average human environmental exposure during pregnancy and lactation. A few months later, it turns out that all babies have developed glucose intolerance, high fasting glucose levels, and insensitivity to insulin (a hormone naturally secreted by the pancreas), hallmarks of diabetes.

Although the mothers developed some glucose intolerance, they were not as affected as their offspring. According to the researchers, "this indicates that chemicals in the environment like BFR can be transferred from mother to offspring, and this exposure early in the developmental period is detrimental." They believe that future studies in humans are needed to determine the long-term consequences of early exposure to these chemicals. “We need to know whether human babies exposed to BFR before and after birth grow into children and adults with diabetes. », Adds Prof. Elena Kozlova.

In the meantime, the scientific team recommends limiting exposure to BFR by taking measures such as washing your hands before eating, dusting your interior often and buying furniture that does not contain it. She also hopes that pregnant and breastfeeding women will be better informed on this subject. However, it specifies that the benefits of breastfeeding for babies far outweigh the risk of transmitting BFR to infants. “We do not recommend restricting breastfeeding but advocate for better protection of our body against chemicals in sofas. », She concludes.