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Study: flame retardant chemicals affect development in frogs

Flame retardant chemicals help keep foam and plastics from catching on fire. They’re called PBDEs. That stands for polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

They’re in our couches, our office chairs and the padding under our carpet.

The problem is... they don’t stay put. Scientists have known for a while that the chemicals leach out of products and get into our bodies. Americans have the highest levels of anyone in the world.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies are suggesting links to problems with brain development, changes to thyroid systems, and fertility problems.

The chemicals are also widespread in the animal kingdom.

A new study in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry looks at how these chemicals might be affecting frogs.

Bill Karasov is one of the authors of the study. He’s been looking at how PBDEs affect the development of northern leopard frogs. His team fed the frogs a diet tainted with PBDEs at levels they would encounter in the wild.

“Even at all concentrations of PBDES down to our very lowest, the growth rate and rate of development of the tadpoles was slowed down. And we also found at the end of the study that the chemical had accumulated in their tissues.”

Karasov says they also saw increased mortality in the tadpoles.

He’s going on to study whether flame retardant chemicals affect frogs’ immune systems.

Learn more: a five-part series from The Environment Report on flame retardant chemicals.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.