1 Sample Had ‘Strikingly’ High Level of PBDE
Dec. 7, 2010 -- Extremely high levels of a fire retardant found in a sample of butter show the need for better monitoring of the nation’s food supply, researchers say.
Levels of the chemical retardant polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) in the sample were 135 times higher than the average for nine other tested samples.
Researchers say the contamination appears to have come from the butter’s paper wrapper, which had PBDE levels that were more than 16 times greater than levels in the butter.
The contamination was discovered during a routine sampling of various foods in an effort to better understand the prevalence of PBDE and other chemical contaminants in the foods we eat.
PBDE Levels in Foods Not Known
Investigators say the incident represents the worst documented case of PBDE contamination in food ever reported in the U.S.
But lead researcher Arnold Schecter, MD, says this may be because no one is really looking for the flame retardant or related chemicals in the nation’s food supply.
Schecter is a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas.
“We hope that investigations like ours will inspire the U.S. government to follow this more closely,” he tells WebMD. “Government inspectors may be out there occasionally looking for E. coli in hamburger, but there seems to be no system for monitoring level of chemicals in foods.”
A spokeswoman for the chemical industry was highly critical of the study, which was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, published by the National Institutes of Health.
“This is an invalid, unscientific study of 10 sticks of butter from one city; it is inappropriate for a federal agency publication, under the cloak of science, to use citizens' tax dollars to legitimize it,” American Chemistry Council Director of Product/Panel Communications Kathryn St. John says in a written statement to WebMD.
Flame Retardant Is Everywhere
PBDEs have been used since the 1970s in the manufacture of plastics, electronics, fabrics, and foam used in the cushions of couches and upholstered chairs.
PBDEs are stored in the body, and monitoring programs in Europe, Asia, North America and even the Arctic have found traces of PBDEs in human breast milk, fish, and birds.