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Flame Retardants in Foods: Discussion

HBCD is viewed as a ''persistent organic pollutant," according to Schecter. That is because it accumulates, travels long distances, and stays in the environment for a long time.

It is often found in fatty foods such as high-fat meats and some fish.

It is on the European Chemicals Agency candidate list of substances of ''very high concern," he says. The U.S. EPA has developed an action plan for the chemical. It is considering adding it to the list of ''chemicals of concern."

"For HBCD, we really have very limited measurements," says Linda S. Birnbaum, PhD, a study co-researcher and director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program.

"These are the first and only measurements of the three types of HBCDs in the U.S. food supply," she says. The researchers measured alpha, beta and gamma forms.

"The levels are still very low," she says of their findings. "But this is a very small study looking at a limited number of foods.''

"We really don't know how broadly representative this might be of American foods in general. They are persistent chemicals. They are going to last in our bodies a long time."

Flame Retardants in Foods: Environmentalists' View

Environmentalists have expressed concern about HBCD for at least a decade, says Sonya Lunder, MPH, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group.

"I think this [study] is important," she says.

The EPA action plan has been lagging, she says. The accumulation of environmental chemicals is a growing concern, she says.

While the new study focuses just on HBCDs, it's the mixture of complex chemicals people are exposed to that is of even greater concern, she says. "Whether this chemical alone or in combination with others is enough to make us sick is a complicated question," she says.

"Overall, reducing our production and use of persistent and toxic chemicals has got to be the goal," she tells WebMD.

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