Organophosphate Esters: Are These Flame Retardants and Plasticizers Affecting Children’s Health?

  • Brett T. Doherty
  • Stephanie C. Hammel
  • Julie L. Daniels
  • Heather M. Stapleton
  • Kate HoffmanEmail author
Synthetic Chemicals and Health (A Zota and T James-Todd, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Synthetic Chemicals and Health


Purpose of Review

Organophosphate esters (OPEs) are applied to a variety of consumer products, primarily as flame retardants and plasticizers. OPEs can leach out of products over time and are consequently prevalent in the environment and frequently detected in human biomonitoring studies. Exposure during pregnancy is of particular concern as OPEs have recently been detected in placental tissues, suggesting they may be transferred to the developing infant. Also, studies have now shown that children typically experience higher exposure to several OPEs compared with adults, indicating they may be disproportionately impacted by these compounds. This review summarizes the current literature on reproductive and child health outcomes of OPE exposures and highlights areas for future research.

Recent Findings

Experimental animal studies demonstrate potential for OPEs to adversely impact health, and a limited number of epidemiologic studies conducted in adult cohorts suggest that OPEs may interfere with the endocrine system. Neurodevelopment is perhaps the most well studied of children’s health endpoints, and several studies indicate that prenatal and early life OPE exposures impact both cognitive and behavioral development. Associations have also been reported with reproductive outcomes (e.g., fertilization and pregnancy loss) and with the timing of parturition and preterm birth. Cross-sectional studies also demonstrate associations between OPEs and respiratory health outcomes, allergic disease, and measures of adiposity.


An expanding body of research demonstrates that OPEs are associated with adverse reproductive health and birth outcomes, asthma and allergic disease, early growth and adiposity, and neurodevelopment. Still, additional research is urgently needed to elucidate the full impact of OPEs on children’s health.


Organophosphate esters Flame retardants Children’s health Neurodevelopment Birth outcomes Asthma 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brett T. Doherty
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stephanie C. Hammel
    • 3
  • Julie L. Daniels
    • 2
  • Heather M. Stapleton
    • 3
    • 4
  • Kate Hoffman
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Epidemiology, Geisel School of Medicine Dartmouth CollegeLebanonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public HealthUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Children’s Health and Discovery InitiativeDuke School of MedicineDurhamUSA

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