(ENS) -- Flame retardant chemicals have been found in foods taken straight from supermarket shelves in Dallas, Texas, a team of researchers from the University of Texas’ School of Public Health has found. The highest concentrations were found in animal fats, particularly salmon.
"Our paper is the first U.S. market basket food survey for brominated flame retardants," says the study’s lead author, environmental health expert Arnold Schecter, M.D., M.P.H.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used as flame retardant additives in electronics and in polyurethane foam used for carpet padding, mattresses, chairs, sofas and other furniture, have been detected in humans across the globe, but scientists are not certain how the chemicals are being absorbed.
The report, which was published online Sept. 1 by "Environmental Science & Technology," a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, revealed higher levels of flame retardants in the Dallas foods than similar market studies from other countries.
The researchers focused on Dallas because in previous studies they reported high levels of PBDEs in breast milk of 47 women in Dallas and Austin -- the highest levels found in the world to date.
For this study, they selected three major supermarket chains in Dallas for the new study and sampled well known brands, assuming these were foods the women would probably have eaten.
The most contaminated sample in the Texas study was a salmon filet with a PBDE concentration of more than 3,000 parts per trillion.
Only two other similar market basket studies have been done, in Spain and Japan, and the U.S. levels were higher than both. The Spanish study reported an upper level of 340 parts per trillion.
The researchers did not speculate on why levels in samples from Dallas supermarkets were so much higher than in the other two studies.
"Although these findings are preliminary, they suggest that food is a major route of intake for PBDEs," Schecter says.
Schecter and his coworkers tested 32 food samples from three major supermarket chains in Dallas.
"We found PBDE contamination in all food containing animal fats," Schecter says, with the highest levels in fish, followed by meat and then dairy products. PBDEs are most soluble in fats, so they tend to accumulate in animal and human tissues.
Little is known about the specific toxic effects of brominated flame retardants, but their increasing presence in human tissue worries health officials because they have been associated with cancer, endocrine disruption and impaired brain development in animal studies.
The European Union has banned two types of PBDEs -- the penta and octa formulations -- and is currently considering a ban on a third type, the deca formulation.
Officials in the United States are still debating the fate of flame retardants, although the main U.S. manufacturer recently announced plans to discontinue production of the penta and octa formulations as part of a voluntary agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
PBDE concentrations in Dallas foods may not be the same as that found in other parts of the country. Schecter plans to extend the research to a larger study of foods from across the United States to better understand how people are exposed to flame retardants through their diets.
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