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More flame retardants found…

December 26th, 2003 · No Comments

Earlier this year I blogged about our friend Erika who participated in a study and learned that her breast milk contained flame retardants . What surprised me especially was that we know how healthy a lifestyle she keeps, and yet she still has toxic chemicals in her body.

Today’s Seattle Times contained two more articles about flame retardants in our environment, including a mention, I believe, of this same study Erika did.
Scientists measuring levels of pollution in human bodies
Concerns rise over fire retardant

“Toxic exposure is never a good thing,” Steingraber said. “And the concern here is that the levels are seen to be rising. But we still don’t know at what level an infant will start to show signs of neurological damage.”

It’s possible the health effects may not be seen until the future, because PBDEs persist in the environment and “bioaccumulate.”

Still, the message as Steingraber sees it is not for women to stop nursing, but to get the chemicals out of the environment.

Several studies testing how PBDEs affect the neurological systems of laboratory animals have just begun. Scientists hope to determine the levels at which human health might be affected. Other researchers hope to discover how the chemicals get from the foam underneath the fabric of a sofa to the fat cells of fish and humans, said Robert Hale, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. His own research has found PBDEs in treated sewer sludge in four states.

Industry and EPA scientists at first thought that PBDE molecular compounds, when baked into the foam used to make cushions or encased in the plastic of computers and stereos, would not break down and disperse in the environment. Recent studies suggest otherwise, Hale said.

Unclear how chemical spreads

The question is, how?

Perhaps PBDE dust rises from the textile factories that make the cushions, Hale said. Perhaps it’s spilled on the floors of plastics factories, then washed down the drains and into sewers and out into rivers. Or perhaps old ripped-up couches or broken stereos are dumped illegally, with the PBDEs left to bake and break down in the sun.

“It’s something we’re scratching our heads over,” Hale said.

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