Meat Eaters Get Dose of Fire Retardants With Their Grub

People are exposed to the fire retardants PBDEs from their furniture, electronics, and most plastic-containing household products.

But now, a new study shows that we’re getting them in our food, too. And meat-eaters are especially susceptible.

Environmental health researcher Alicia Fraser, of Boston University’s School of Public Health, warns us,

The more meat you eat, the more PBDEs you have in your serum.

If you’re not familiar with PBDEs, chances are you know of their chemical cousins: PCBs, the now-banned carcinogenic chemicals.

PBDEs are polybrominated diphenyl ethers, if that clarifies it for you. There are 3 main types: penta, octa, and deca. The first two have been banned in the States since 2005, but if you buy vintage or even gently-used furniture, you’re probably coming into contact with them. Also, if you buy goods made in other countries (China, perhaps?), they can contain all 3 types.

So how did they get from furniture and electronics and even clothes to our food?

Simple food chain science, my friends:

  1. We dump our used household products.
  2. Those goods break down into “bads”, and the chemicals hit the water and the land.
  3. Chemicals such as PBDEs are consumed by the smallest in the food chain.
  4. They then “bioaccumulate”, moving up the food chain, and eventually reaching humans.
  5. Thus, meat-eaters consume more PBDEs.

They are persistent in the environment. They don’t get broken down. Therefore, it takes a really long time for the contamination to leave our environment and our bodies. Even though we don’t know the health effects at this point, most people would want policies that would stop us from being exposed to them.

What’s the prob, Bob? Now I can’t set myself on fire! No big deal.

Well, PBDEs are linked to thyroid and neurological problems. In low doses, they caused damage to lab animals. And American women have the highest concentration in the world, particularly in breastmilk.

For this study, Fraser and her team looked at existing data from the CDC. But this time, they focused on dietary exposure. Turns out, meat eaters had 25% more PBDEs in their blood than vegetarians.

What can be done? Fraser suggests that the U.S. follows Europe’s lead and tests chemicals in our products before they hit the market, not after.


Image: ctaloi on Flickr under a Creative Commons License. The structural formula of PBDEs is from Wikimedia Commons.

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