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Toxic Flame Retardant Found in Breast Milk

by Reuters, Sep 23, 2003

Several American mothers nursing their infants had high levels of potentially toxic flame retardant chemicals in their breast milk, a U.S. environmental group said on Tuesday. While the study by the Environmental Working Group was small and did not show any health effects in the babies, the group said it showed just how widespread the chemicals are. The chemicals are bromine-based fire retardants and are used in a wide range of products including furniture, computers, television sets, automobiles, copy machines and hair dryers to make them less likely to catch fire. They can build up in the body over years. Brominated fire retardants impair attention, learning, memory, and behavior in laboratory animals at surprisingly low levels, the EWG report reads. The most sensitive time for toxic effects is during periods of rapid brain development. The EWG, a non-profit group that has publicized the presence of many different chemicals in products and the environment, tested the breast milk of 20 first-time mothers across the country, including Washington, D.C., Evergreen, Colorado, and Los Angeles. The average level of bromine-based fire retardants in the milk of 20 first-time mothers was 75 times the average found in recent European studies, the report reads. Milk from two study participants contained the highest levels of fire retardants ever reported in the United States, and milk from several of the mothers in EWGs study had among the highest levels of these chemicals yet detected worldwide. These results confirm recently published findings from University of Texas researchers, as well as other U.S. studies, that American babies are exposed to far higher amounts of fire retardants than babies in Europe, where some of these chemicals have already been banned, the EWG said. In the United States, only California and Maine have acted to restrict the use of these chemicals. The group stressed that women should not stop breastfeeding. No study links intake of the chemicals from breast milk with any problems in children. Any health effects probably take place while the children are still in the womb, the group said. Albemarle Corp. of Richmond, Virginia, one of the companies that makes the flame-retardant chemicals, said it was working to find out if the chemicals are dangerous. As an industry group and as a company we are working with just about any and every scientific group that is doing long-term studies on the safety of these products, spokesman Michael Whitlow said.



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