Omnipresent in everyday life, these substances increase the risk of dying from cancer

Omnipresent in everyday life these substances increase the risk of

  • News
  • Published on

    Reading 2 min.

    in collaboration with

    Pierre Souvet (cardiologist and President of the French Environmental Health Association (ASEF).)

    Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are better known as flame retardants. Commonly used in plastics and textiles, they are believed to increase our risk of death from cancer.

    Useful for preventing the formation of flames in many everyday plastic and textile objects, brominated flame retardants are nonetheless scrutinized for their harmful effects on health. Chinese researchers therefore decided to find out more about the links between one of the subgroups called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (or PBDEs) and death from cancer.

    Risk of dying from cancer multiplied by 3

    The team of researchers studied data from a cohort of more than 16,000 American adults who participated in a large survey on health and nutrition in the 2000s and followed over around fifteen years.

    The conclusions are clear: participants with the highest levels of PBDEs in the body had a 300% higher risk of death from cancer, compared to people with the lowest levels. An association that did not differ by age, sex, ethnicity, diet quality, physical activity or weight.

    A possible role on hormones

    How can this environment influence cancer mortality among the most exposed people? Scientists cite direct negative effects on hormones.

    As chemicals endocrine disruptorsPBDEs and their metabolites can bind to hormone receptors (i.e. estrogen receptors), act as both agonists and antagonists, and then disrupt hormone homeostasis”, they develop. “This plays a role in the development and progression of endocrine tumors such as thyroid cancer.”

    Contacted, Dr Pierre Souvet, cardiologist and president of the Association Santé Environnement France, qualifies the statement:

    “What we see is a link with liver cancer in animals, thyroid cancer in humans and perhaps with breast cancer according to other studies. We therefore know that it acts via hormones, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about how it works: do these substances create cancer or promote its development, we are only at the beginning of discoveries in this subject, everything is not yet clear.

    Banned pollutants, but persistent in the environment

    Note that the manufacture and use of PBDEs are today prohibited. So why be wary of it? Quite simply because the compounds are very persistent and surround us every day.

    “PBDEs remain ubiquitous in the environment (in air, water, soil), bioaccumulate in food chains and have a high potential for long-range transport,” develop the authors. “Humans continue to be exposed to these compounds by eating food or breathing air contaminated with PBDEs“.

    A problem confirmed by Dr Pierre Souvet: “Some of these substances have been banned, others have not. But even those that are, persist for a long time in the environment. In addition, these polybrominated compounds have a strong affinity for fats. They are therefore found not only in plastics, coatings, and therefore our homes, our cars, in the air, but also in all our fatty fish, ice creams or vegetable oils…”

    In this context, it is difficult to escape it. “The only thing to protect yourself from it is to ventilate (your house, your car) and avoid eating too much, but that’s about all” admitshe admits.