Contaminated milk

High levels of flame retardants present

By Kirtiman Awasthi
Published: Saturday 15 October 2005

-- a us study has found high levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (pbdes) -- toxic chemicals commonly used as flame retardants -- in the breast milk of mothers living in the Pacific Northwest region of the country.

The California Environmental Protection Agency (cepa) and the Northwest Environment Watch (new), a research group in Seattle, analysed the breast milk of 40 first-time breastfeeding mothers with singleton infants aged 2-8 weeks, for pbdes and polychlorinated biphenyls (pcbs). The study found pbdes ranged from 6-321 parts per billion (ppb), which are 20-40 times higher than levels found in Sweden and Japan. The participating mothers were from Oregon, British Columbia, Montana and Washington State. The findings were released at an international scientific conference in Toronto, Canada, from August 21-26, 2005.

The results also showed 30 per cent of the mothers tested had higher levels of pbdes than pcbs. "The comparison with pcbs suggests that pbde s have emerged as a major environmental health concern," said Clark Williams-Derry, new research director. Previous studies showed that in most biological samples, levels of pbdes were less than pcbs, but, "as a consequence of the increasing pbde levels, this may be changing." pcbs, now banned, have been linked to cancer and developmental delays, including significant iq deficits (see 'Sucking in toxins', Down To EarthDecember 15, 2001).

Similar in structure to pcbs, pbdes are commonly added to products such as furniture foams, textiles and consumer electronics. Laboratory studies conducted on animals have shown that pbdes can cause learning deficits, behavioural aberrations, delayed sexual development and even disturb thyroid hormone levels.

Researchers speculate that in combination the two chemicals may prove more harmful than if they were to act individually. " pcb s are still polluting the environment decades after they were banned. In order to avoid the same outcome with pbdes, we need to act quickly," emphasises Williams-Derry.

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