Beyond Cholinesterase Inhibition: Developmental Neurotoxicity of Organophosphate Ester Flame Retardants and Plasticizers

To date, the toxicity of organophosphate esters has primarily been studied regarding their use as pesticides and their effects on the neurotransmitter acetylcholinesterase (AChE). Currently, flame retardants and plasticizers are the two largest market segments for organophosphate esters and they are found in a wide variety of products, including electronics, building materials, vehicles, furniture, car seats, plastics, and textiles. As a result, organophosphate esters and their metabolites are routinely found in human urine, blood, placental tissue, and breast milk across the globe. It has been asserted that their neurological effects are minimal given that they do not act on AChE in precisely the same way as organophosphate ester pesticides.

This commentary describes research on the non-AChE neurodevelopmental toxicity of organophosphate esters used as flame retardants and plasticizers (OPEs). Studies in humans, mammalian, nonmammalian, and in vitro models are presented, and relevant neurodevelopmental pathways, including adverse outcome pathways, are described. By highlighting this scientific evidence, we hope to elevate the level of concern for widespread human exposure to these OPEs and to provide recommendations for how to better protect public health.