The Flame Retardant Firemaster 550, Fat Cells, and Bone Health

Researchers from the Boston University (BU) and Duke University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Centers found that components of the flame-retardant mixture Firemaster® 550 (FM550) may stimulate growth of fat cells and reduce bone health. The results of the collaborative study suggest that triphenyl phosphate (TPP), a component of FM550 that is widespread in household products and house dust, interacts with a protein that regulates fat cell differentiation and lipid storage.

“TPP is everywhere in our indoor environment, so our finding that TPP is biologically active is significant and warrants further investigation,” said BU SRP project leader Jennifer Schlezinger, Ph.D., who led the study. “This calls attention to the fact that we need to be considering the contributions of environmental toxicants such as TPP in obesity and loss of bone health.”

Alternative flame retardant use has increased since the phase out of pentabromodiphenyl ethers (PBDEs) because of concerns about the tendency of PBDEs to concentrate in human tissues and potential human health effects. Other chemicals are currently used to meet flammability requirements, including FM550, which is found in foam-based products such as couch cushions and other household items.

Scientists tested the ability of FM550 to bind and activate peroxisome proliferator activated receptor gamma (PPARγ), a protein known to regulate the development of fat cells in the body. Researchers also used cells from bone marrow to assess changes in response to exposure to TPP and other components of FM550.

FM550 was shown to bind and activate PPARγ and stimulate development of fat cells, which may contribute to obesity. PPARγ also plays a crucial role in stimulating formation of fat cells in bone marrow, which suppresses the formation of osteoblasts, or bone cells. By activating PPARγ, components of FM550, including TPP, potentially have detrimental effects on bone health and may accelerate osteoporosis by suppressing osteoblast formation.

Based on the findings, TPP is likely a major contributor to the biological actions of FM550. Given that TPP is very common in house dust, the authors suggest the need for further studies to evaluate its health effects.


BU SRP at ISEE 2014

BU SRP Presentations 

Spatial Analysis of ADHD-Related Behaviors and Exposures near the New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site. Veronica Vieira, Thomas Webster, Susan Korrick (Project 2)

Epidemiologic Analysis of the Effect of Mixtures: Application of a New Method to a Study of Organochlorines and ADHD.
Thomas Webster, Verónica Vieira, Susan Korrick (Project 2)

Spatial Analysis of Birth Defects in Massachusetts to Investigate Social and Environmental Risk Factors.
Mariam Girguis, Scott Bartell, Verónica Vieira (Project 2 trainee)

Sessions chaired by BU SRP

Veronica Vieira (Project 2) is chairing the Spatial Analytic Methods session and co-chairing Plenary Session 4.

Ann Aschengrau (Project 1) is co-chairing the Water Contaminants: Arsenic, DBPs and Nitrates session. Lisa Gallagher who will be joining BU next month and working on Project 1 will be co-chairing the session with Aschengrau.


Upcoming Event: CHE Partnership Call on PCBs in Schools

BU SRP Research Translation Core has organized and is co-sponsoring The Collaborative on Health & the Environment Partnership Call on PCBs in Schools - Still a Problem? The call on Tuesday September 9th at 1:00 pm EST will address issues such as PCBs in schools, PCBS in construction materials, the human health concerns of PCBs, and what actions we need to take to protect our children and others from exposures. RSVP for the call here!

About the Call:

Although toxic PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were banned from production in the US over three decades ago, new research has found that PCBs produced as an unintended byproduct of some yellow dyes, inks and paints have been detected leaching from a range of products including those used in schools. Join researchers from the Superfund Research Program (SRP) for this back to school look at PCBs in schools, PCBS in construction materials, the human health concerns of PCBs, and what actions we need to take to protect our children and others from exposures. Speakers will include Dr. David Sherr, BU SRP Director, who will provide an overview on the science and health effects of PCBs, and Dr. Keri Hornbuckle, Professor and Chair of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa, and project leader of the Iowa Superfund Research Program, who will discuss PCBs in paint. The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Madeleine Scammell from the BU SRP, and co-editor of The Toxic Schoolhouse.

See also the upcoming Eighth International PCB Workshop: PCBs in Schools


Super Human Radio Interview with Dr. Schlezinger

Listen to the recording of the radio show online!

Monday August 18th 1:00-1:27 PM

Drs. Simmons (BUSM Corkey Lab) and Schlezinger (BUSRP Project 3) will be interviewed on the podcast Super Human Radio which focuses on human health and nutrition. They will talk about chemical obesogens and the evidence concerning their role in human metabolic homeostasis, as presented in their recent review: What Are We Putting in Our Food That Is Making Us Fat? Food Additives, Contaminants, and Other Putative Contributors to Obesity.

You can listen live by using this link to or by going to and then searching for the Super Human Channel.

Affiliated Institutions

The Superfund Research Program at Boston University

Supported with funding from the
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' Superfund Research Program

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Boston University School of Public Health
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Telephone: 617-638-4620
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