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Flame retardants: Playing with fire

MagazineApril 2009 (Vol. 20 Issue 1)Flame retardants: Playing with fire

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a group of neurotoxic chemicals that

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a group of neurotoxic chemicals thatare used as flame retard-ants, have routinely been added to consumer products for decades in an effort to reduce fire-related injury and property damage. Among other agents, they're probably in your sofa, carpet, toaster, TV set and computer. However, as the mounting evidence shows, these chemicals are also turning up in human breast milk-and at surprisingly high levels.

As researchers have recently reported, there has been an alarming increase in the concentration of PBDEs in breast milk over the past few years. Levels in Swedish women, for example, increased by 60 times from 1972 to 1997 while, in North America, they've increased by more than 200 times over a 25-year period (Lancet, 2007; 370: 1813-4).

Even more alarming, a nationwide study by the US non-profit Environ-mental Working Group (EWG) found unexpectedly high levels of PBDEsin the breast milk of every woman tested. Worse, the milk from several mothers had among the highest levels of these chemicals ever reported in humans worldwide (www. ewg.org/reports/mothersmilk).

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