Flame retardants found on supermarket shelves

September 01, 2004

A new study has found flame retardant chemicals, called PBDEs, in foods taken straight from supermarket shelves in Dallas, Texas, suggesting that food may be a key source of the contamination measured in people around the world. The report, which was published online Sept. 1 by Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, revealed higher levels of flame retardants in the foods here than similar market studies from other countries.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) -- used widely as flame-retardant additives in electronics and in polyurethane foam used for carpet padding, mattresses, chairs, sofas and other furniture -- have been detected in humans across the globe, but scientists are not certain how they are getting there.

"Our paper is the first U.S. market basket food survey for brominated flame retardants," says the study's lead author Arnold Schecter, M.D., M.P.H., an environmental health expert at the University of Texas' School of Public Health in Dallas.

Schecter and his coworkers tested 32 food samples from three major supermarket chains in Dallas. "We found PBDE contamination in all food containing animal fats," Schecter says, with the highest levels in fish, followed by meat and then dairy products. PBDEs are most soluble in fats, so they tend to accumulate in animal and human tissues.

Only two other similar market basket studies have been done -- in Spain and Japan -- and the U.S. levels were higher than both, according to the Texas study.

The Spanish study reported an upper level of 340 parts per trillion (ppt), while the most contaminated sample in the Texas study was a salmon filet with a concentration of more than 3,000 ppt. Likewise, the median concentration of PBDEs in meat from Dallas supermarkets was more than twice the maximum levels in meat from both the Spanish and Japanese surveys.

The researchers did not speculate on why levels in samples from Dallas supermarkets were higher than in the other two studies.

"Although these findings are preliminary, they suggest that food is a major route of intake for PBDEs," Schecter says.

The researchers recently reported high levels of PBDEs in breast milk of 47 women in Dallas and Austin -- the highest levels found in the world to date. They selected three major supermarket chains in Dallas for the new study and sampled well-known brands, assuming these were foods the women would probably have eaten.

It is important to note, however, that supermarkets in the United States often receive food from distant parts of the country. Schecter plans to extend the research to a larger study of foods from across the United States to better understand how people are exposed to flame retardants through their diets.

Little is known about the specific toxic effects of brominated flame retardants, but their increasing presence in human tissue is cause for concern because they have been associated with cancer, endocrine disruption and impaired brain development in animal studies, according to the researchers.

The European Union has banned two types of PBDEs -- the penta and octa formulations -- and is currently considering a ban on a third type, the deca formulation. Officials in the United States are still debating the fate of flame retardants, although the main U.S. manufacturer recently announced plans to discontinue production of the penta and octa formulations as part of a voluntary agreement with the U.S. EPA.
-end-
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization, chartered by the U.S. Congress, with a multidisciplinary membership of more than 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers. It publishes numerous scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

-- Jason GorssThe online version of the research paper cited above was initially published Sept. 1 on the journal's Web site and will appear in the journal's Oct. 15 print edition. Journalists can arrange access to the journal's Web site by sending an e-mail tonewsroom@acs.orgor calling the contact person for this release.

American Chemical Society

Related Flame Retardants Articles from Brightsurf:

Blue whirl flame structure revealed with supercomputers
Main structure and flow structure of 'blue whirl' flame revealed through supercomputer simulations.

New research reveals mysterious blue whirl flame structure
A recently discovered soot-free flame called a blue whirl - which consumes all fuel it encounters -- actually consists of three different flame structures that swirl together into one otherworldly blue ring, according to the first study to identify how these unique flames form.

A shake-up in cell culturing: Flame sterilization may affect the culture
Researchers from the University of Tsukuba have found that flame-sterilizing shake-flasks, to avoid introducing microbial contaminants, considerably increases the carbon dioxide concentration in the flasks.

Study finds another reason to wash hands: Flame retardants
Harmful flame retardants may be lurking on your hands and cell phone, according to a peer-reviewed study published today in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

Study reveals birth defects caused by flame retardant
A new study from the University of Georgia has shown that exposure to a now-banned flame retardant can alter the genetic code in sperm, leading to major health defects in children of exposed parents.

Flame retardants and pesticides overtake heavy metals as biggest contributors to IQ loss
Adverse outcomes from childhood exposures to lead and mercury are on the decline in the United States, likely due to decades of restrictions on the use of heavy metals, a new study finds.

Prenatal Exposure to Flame Retardants Linked to Reading Problems
A new study from researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons suggests that prenatal exposure to flame retardants may increase the risk of reading problems.

New flame retardants, old problems
New flame retardants escaping from our TVs, other electrical and electronic products, and children's car seats are just as toxic as the flame retardants they're intended to replace, according to a peer-reviewed study published today in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

Flame retardants -- from plants
Flame retardants are present in thousands of everyday items, from clothing to furniture to electronics.

New process discovered to completely degrade flame retardant in the environment
A team of environmental scientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and China has for the first time used a dynamic, two-step process to completely degrade a common flame-retardant chemical, rendering the persistent global pollutant nontoxic.

Read More: Flame Retardants News and Flame Retardants Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.