High levels of toxic industrial chemicals (PBDE’s) found in food

November 15, 2007

A few days ago CNN aired a story about high levels of toxic chemicals found in children.  A family who had volunteered to be tested was shocked to learn that their 18 month old had two to three times the level of PBDE’s shown to cause thyroid dysfunction in rates.

There seemed to be some question as to how this overload of chemicals got into this little boy’s body. Could it be coming from his food?

PBDE’s (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers) are man-made chemicals that are often added to foam padding, plastics or fabrics so they won’t catch on fire or burn as easily if they are exposed to flame or high heat. These flame retardants can be found in computer plastics, toys, food packaging, upholstered furniture, clothing, appliances and other products. They do not break down quickly and remain in the environment for a long time. Sweden banned them in 1998. The European Union banned them in 2004. Two US companies stopped making them in 2004 but a third kind, DECA, is still used.

It is not easy to tell which products contain PBDE’s. There are no product labels that list PBDE’s and retailers generally are not aware which of their products contain PBDE’s. Also, there is no simple or inexpensive way to test for PBDE’s.

Findings suggest that food is a major route of intake for PBDE’s. PBDE’s are stored in the fat tissue of animals and, therefore, foods high in animal fat may have higher concentrations. The highest levels of PBDE’s in foods are found in fish, but they are also in everything from meat and dairy products to fruits and vegetables. Food and beverages can absorb small amounts of PBDE’s from plastic containers, utensils and packaging materials.

Research and testing done in 2005 in Canada revealed that flame retardants were found in virtually all (of the 13) foods tested, sometimes at relatively high levels. Farmed rainbow trout had levels of PBDEs of 3,638 parts per trillion and farmed Atlantic salmon 1,942 ppt. Sausage had 242 ppt and butter 384 ppt, while cheese had PBDEs levels of 23 ppt and milk 10 ppt. Only chicken had virtually undetectable levels. Environmental chemicals tend to accumulate in fat, so not surprisingly fattier foods had higher levels.

A study done at the Univeristy of Texas School of Public Health tested 32 food samples from well-known brands sold in three major supermarkets in Dallas. They found PBDE contamination in all food containing animal fats. The highest levels were in fish, followed by meat and then dairy products. Scientists didn’t test vegetables and fruits, but did find PBDEs in a soy infant formula. PBDE’s find their way into our bodies and are stored for a long time in body fat or other tissues. PBDE’s have been measured in blood, fat and breast milk collected from people around the world.

There were no PBDEs in the human body 40 years ago, before use of the chemicals began.

The highest levels of PBDE’s among the general population are found in the U.S. and Canada-10 to 100 times higher than levels reported for people in Europe and Japan. One reason for the higher levels of PBDE’s in U.S. and Canadian may be because of the greater use of the compounds in these countries. While levels in people in Japan and some European countries are decreasing, levels in people in the U.S. appear to be increasing.

CNN report: http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/science/10/22/body.burden/index.html

Texas sudy: http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-a/38/free/es0490830.html


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