Widespread Presence of Harmful Flame Retardants in U.S. Breast Milk: A Concerning Study

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Research Reveals Alarming Contamination of Breast Milk by 25 Types of Toxic Flame Retardant Chemicals

In recent findings that have raised concerns, new research highlights the extensive prevalence of a class of toxic flame retardants within breast milk across the United States. A comprehensive study analyzed breast milk samples from fifty women throughout the country, shedding light on a disturbing discovery. Each sample exhibited the presence of brominated flame retardants (BFRs), encompassing a total of 25 distinct varieties of these compounds within the milk, as documented in a report by The Guardian.

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BFRs, commonly encountered in plastics, televisions, and electronics, constitute the largest marketed group of flame retardants today due to their cost-effectiveness and high-performance capabilities, as affirmed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This surge in their popularity followed the ban and scrutiny of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), previously used as flame retardants, due to potential health risks.

Strikingly, this study highlights the structural similarity and shared purpose of the banned PBDEs and the unregulated bromophenols. Despite their relative obscurity regarding toxicity, evidence points towards their adverse impact on human health.

The EPA reveals that epidemiological studies distinctly indicate the negative effects of BFRs on human health. These effects encompass cryptorchidism, disruptions in thyroid hormone equilibrium, reproductive implications, and impaired development in school-age children, including reduced psychomotor development index and IQ performance.

“Recent epidemiological studies clearly indicated that BFRs affect human health. The human health effects include cryptorchidism, alterations in thyroid hormone homeostasis, reproductive effects, and reduced development of children at school age that include psychomotor development index and IQ performance.”

How People Get Exposed

Human exposure to these chemicals occurs through inhalation of contaminated dust or ingestion. Indoor contamination emerges as a significant source of exposure, particularly affecting young children who frequently engage in hand-to-mouth behavior. Furthermore, the study unveils that a specific class of BFRs has been detected in plastic toys containing recycled plastic content, with noteworthy leaching into artificial saliva.

Erika Schreder, co-author of the study, expressed dismay at the persistent presence of brominated flame retardants in breast milk, even after the alarm bells rang concerning PBDE contamination two decades ago. 

“It’s maddening to find current-use brominated flame retardants in breast milk, 20 years after contamination with PBDEs rang alarm bells,” said Schreder.

She highlighted that Best Buy has taken strides towards safer chemical alternatives in its television sets, emphasizing the feasibility of adopting such practices. Schreder advocates for other electronics retailers to follow suit, urging the use of exclusively safer chemicals.

“Best Buy has shown it’s possible — now it and other electronics retailers should take the next step and ensure all the electronics they sell contain only safer chemicals,” she added.

Imposed Restrictions

Notably, the study underscores that both Apple and HP have imposed restrictions on these harmful chemicals. However, the issue persists as flame retardant chemicals may be eliminated from one product line while resurfacing in related merchandise.

Chlorinated tris, a banned flame retardant chemical linked to potential DNA alteration, serves as a poignant example. Despite its prohibition in children’s pajamas since 1977, its discovery in a child’s play tunnel by Dr. Heather Stapleton from Duke University accentuates the significance of continued vigilance.

“That really horrified me,” she said. “He put his mouth all over that mesh.”

In conclusion, the research’s revelations of extensive toxic flame retardant contamination in breast milk underscore the urgency of addressing this issue. The findings warrant industry-wide cooperation to adopt safer alternatives and minimize the health risks posed by these substances. This comprehensive study acts as a call to action for electronics retailers to prioritize consumer well-being by embracing alternative chemical solutions