Flame retardant chemicals, which are in household furniture, textiles and electronic equipment, have found their way into human breast milk. Scientists aren't sure how this may affect the developing child, but it's feared it may cause neurological problems and disrupt thyroid function.
One study has found that the level of the retardant PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) has increased 200 times in breast milk in women in North America, while another study in Sweden has discovered the level has increased 60 times in a span of 25 years.
PBDEs have regularly been included in a range of household and office items since the 1970s, but scientists have only recently discovered just how dangerous the chemical can be. Regulators across Europe and the US have banned some elements of the chemical, and the brominated mix will be removed under new legislation that comes into force in 2008.
But items of furniture and furnishings that contain the original compound are still in millions of homes. Unlike other pollutants such as PCBs and DDT, the PBDEs particularly affect infants. Scientists have found a direct link between breast milk and household dust, and they estimate that toddlers' exposure to PBDEs from household dust is 100 times greater than that for adults because of breast milk and more hand-to-mouth contact.
(Source: The Lancer, 2007; 370: 1813-4).