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Detailed Findings

Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns: Detailed Findings

July 14, 2005

In a study spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in 10 newborn babies, with a total of 287 chemicals found in the group. To our knowledge this work represents the first reported cord blood tests for 261 of the targeted chemicals, and the first reported detections of at least 209 chemicals. Scientists refer to this contamination as a person's body burden.

The study found a broad array of pollutants that collectively are known to present potential risks to nearly every organ and system in the body:

  • Of the 287 chemicals found in newborn umbilical cord blood, 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause developmental problems. The dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination has never been studied.
  • We detected 287 chemicals of 413 tested (69 percent) in umbilical cord blood samples from 10 newborn babies, with a range of between 154 and 231 for each child. We found 101 chemicals in all babies tested.
  • Our tests targeted nine chemical classes; we detected at least half of the analyzed chemicals in each class.

The chemicals we found span organochlorine pesticides (DDT and dieldrin, for example), chemicals currently or formerly used in a wide range of consumer products (perfluorochemicals, brominated fire retardants, PCBs), and chemical pollutants from waste incineration and fossil fuel combustion (polyaromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated and polybrominated dioxins and furans, polychlorinated naphthalenes, mercury).


View results

Summary of tests by chemical family

Summary of tests by chemical family and subclass

Summary of tests by potential health effects


Fetal exposures to mixtures. The few published biomonitoring studies that measure fetal and newborn exposures among the general population confirm work that the pharmaceutical industry conducted more than 40 years ago establishing that the placenta is permeable not just with respect to oxygen, nutrients and fetal waste materials, but also with respect to xenobiotic chemicals. These chemicals move through the placenta via passive diffusion and, less frequently, active transport mechanisms from maternal to fetal blood (Syme et al. 2004).

 

The few published cord blood biomonitoring studies of the North American general population target a range of chemical classes, including polybrominated biphenyl ethers, or PBDEs (Mazdai et al. 2003); polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs (Stewart 1999,2000; Schecter 1998); organochlorine pesticides (Walker et al. 2003, Rhainds et al. 1999, Lagueux et al. 1999): polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs (PAH—DNA adducts were analyzed in Bocskay et al. 2005); methylmercury (Rhainds et al. 1999, Belles-Isles et al. 2002, and Bilrha et al. 2003); and polychlorinated dioxins and furans, or PCDD/PCDFs (Schecter 1998). Although these studies each target a fairly limited number of contaminants, collectively they confirm the findings of the current study: babies are exposed to hundreds of industrial chemicals even before birth.

The mixtures comprising a typical baby's body burden create an environment in the body that is drastically different from what is produced in toxicology studies, nearly all of which focus on single chemicals. Studies that target mixtures most often investigate simple mixtures at high doses encompassing only a handful of chemicals, rarely outside the same chemical class. In a few cases, scientists have investigated the toxicity of mixtures designed to mimic chemical combinations found in the environment. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), for instance, has begun to develop "interaction profiles" — assessments of the evidence on joint toxic actions of mixtures — for some common chemical combinations found in the environment (de Rosa et al. 2004, ATSDR 2004). But as a rule, toxicologists have not investigated mixtures that are considered representative of those found in people, much less in sensitive subpopulations such as developing children.

The results of our investigation raise questions with respect to the role of exposures in utero both in a range of children's health problems and in diseases developed in adulthood that may have their origins in early life exposures; the study also reinforces the importance of explicit consideration of fetal and childhood exposures in developing public health policies.


Test results from 10 newborn babies find 287 chemicals from 9 diverse chemical families

class icon Mercury (Hg) - tested for 1, found 1
Pollutant from coal-fired power plants, mercury-containing products, and certain industrial processes. Accumulates in seafood. Harms brain development and function.
  Detected in: 10 of 10 newborns tested
Average concentration: 0.947 parts per billion (ppb) (whole blood)
Range: 0.07 to 2.3 ppb
class icon Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) - tested for 18, found 9
Pollutants from burning gasoline and garbage. Linked to cancer. Accumulates in food chain.
  Detected in: 5 of 5 newborns tested
Average concentration: 285 parts per trillion (ppt) (blood lipids)
Range: 217 to 384 ppt
class icon Polybrominated dibenzodioxins and furans (PBDD/F) - tested for 12, found 7
Contaminants in brominated flame retardants. Pollutants and byproducts from plastic production and incineration. Accumulate in food chain. Toxic to developing endocrine (hormone) system
  Detected in: 7 of 10 newborns tested
Average concentration: 55.9 parts per trillion (ppt) (blood lipids)
Range: below detection limit to 299 ppt
class icon Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) - tested for 12, found 9
Active ingredients or breakdown products of Teflon, Scotchgard, fabric and carpet protectors, food wrap coatings. Global contaminants. Accumulate in the environment and the food chain. Linked to cancer, birth defects, and more.
  Detected in: 10 of 10 newborns tested
Average concentration: 6.17 parts per billion (ppb) (whole blood)
Range: 3.37 to 10.7 ppb
class icon Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and furans (PCDD/F) - tested for 17, found 11
Pollutants, by-products of PVC production, industrial bleaching, and incineration. Cause cancer in humans. Persist for decades in the environment. Very toxic to developing endocrine (hormone) system.
  Detected in: 10 of 10 newborns tested
Average concentration: 6.17 parts per billion (ppb) (whole blood)
Range: 3.37 to 10.7 ppb
class icon Organochlorine pesticides (OCs) - tested for 28, found 21
DDT, chlordane and other pesticides. Largely banned in the U.S. Persist for decades in the environment. Accumulate up the food chain, to man. Cause cancer and numerous reproductive effects.
  Detected in: 10 of 10 newborns tested
Average concentration: 18,600 parts per trillion (ppt) (blood lipids)
Range: 8,720 to 35,400 ppt
class icon Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) - tested for 46, found 32
Flame retardant in furniture foam, computers, and televisions. Accumulates in the food chain and human tissues. Adversely affects brain development and the thyroid.
  Detected in: 10 of 10 newborns tested
Average concentration: 6,420 parts per trillion (ppt) (blood lipids)
Range: 1,110 to 14,200 ppt
class icon Polychlorinated Naphthalenes (PCNs) - tested for 70, found 50
Wood preservatives, varnishes, machine lubricating oils, waste incineration. Common PCB contaminant. Contaminate the food chain. Cause liver and kidney damage.
  Detected in: 10 of 10 newborns tested
Average concentration: 617 parts per trillion (ppt) (blood lipids)
Range: 295 to 964 ppt
class icon Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - tested for 209, found 147
Industrial insulators and lubricants. Banned in the U.S. in 1976. Persist for decades in the environment. Accumulate up the food chain, to man. Cause cancer and nervous system problems.
  Detected in: 10 of 10 newborns tested
Average concentration: 7,880 parts per trillion (ppt) (blood lipids)
Range: 2,990 to 19,700 ppt

Source: Chemical analyses of 10 umbilical cord blood samples conducted by AXYS Analytical Services (Sydney, BC) and Flett Research Ltd. (Winnipeg, MB).




Test results from 10 newborn babies find 287 chemicals from a diverse range of chemical families and subclasses - table coming soon

 

Chemical class and subclass Concentrations of chemicals in umbilical cord blood from 10 newborns (average and range among individual umbilical cord blood samples) Number of newborn umbilical blood samples with detections
Metals [parts per billion wet weight]
Methyl Mercury 0.947 (0.07 - 2.3) 10 of 10
Polybrominated dioxins and furans [parts per trillion lipid weight]
Brominated dioxins 5.33 (0 - 53.3) 1 of 10
Brominated furans 50.5 (0 - 246) 7 of 10
  Tetrabrominated dioxin 0 (0 - 0) 0 of 10
  Pentabrominated dioxin 0 (0 - 0) 0 of 10
  Hexabrominated dioxin 5.33 (0 - 53.3) 1 of 10
  Tetrabrominated furan 1.65 (0 - 11.1) 2 of 10
  Pentabrominated furan 10.7 (0 - 48.5) 6 of 10
  Hexabrominated furan 12.6 (0 - 73.3) 3 of 10
  Heptabrominated furan 25.6 (0 - 118) 6 of 10
  Octabrominated furan 0 (0 - 0) 0 of 10
Polychlorinated dioxins and furans [parts per trillion lipid weight]
Chlorinated dioxins 53.4 (37 - 79.6) 10 of 10
Chlorinated furans 6.04 (0.758 - 35) 10 of 10
  Tetrachlorinated dioxin 0 (0 - 0) 0 of 10
  Pentachlorinated dioxin 0.291 (0 - 2.910) 1 of 10
  Hexachlorinated dioxin 7.1 (3.79 - 12) 10 of 10
  Heptachlorinated dioxin 8.92 (5.3 - 12.6) 10 of 10
  Octachlorinated dioxin 37.1 (19.9 - 55) 10 of 10
  Tetrachlorinated furan 0 (0 - 0) 0 of 10
  Pentachlorinated furan 1.62 (0 - 8.660) 4 of 10
  Hexachlorinated furan 2.31 (0.379 - 15.4) 10 of 10
  Heptachlorinated furan 2.12 (0.379 - 11) 10 of 10
  Octachlorinated furan 0 (0 - 0) 0 of 10
Organochlorine Pesticide (OC) [parts per trillion lipid weight]
Organochlorine Pesticides (OCs) 18600 (8720 - 35400) 10 of 10
Perfluorochemical (PFCs) [parts per billion wet weight]
Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) 6.17 (3.37 - 10.6) 10 of 10
  Perfluorinated sulfonate 4.25 (2.26 - 7.760) 10 of 10
  Perfluorinated carboxylic acid 1.92 (1.1 - 2.870) 10 of 10
Polyaromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs) [parts per trillion lipid weight]
Polyaromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs) 285 (217 - 384) 5 of 5
Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDEs) [parts per trillion lipid weight]
Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDEs) 6420 (1110 - 14200) 10 of 10
  Dibrominated diphenyl ether 40.4 (0 - 82.7) 7 of 10
  Tribrominated diphenyl ether 160 (75.6 - 303) 10 of 10
  Tetrabrominated diphenyl ether 1660 (16.6 - 3950) 10 of 10
  Pentabrominated diphenyl ether 574 (0 - 1750) 9 of 10
  Hexabrominated diphenyl ether 1310 (272 - 7590) 10 of 10
  Heptabrominated diphenyl ether 46.6 (12.2 - 117) 10 of 10
  Octabrominated diphenyl ether 74.3 (41.2 - 134) 10 of 10
  Nonabrominated diphenyl ether 859 (0 - 3250) 7 of 10
  Decabrominated diphenyl ether 1700 (0 - 9630) 3 of 10
Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) [parts per trillion lipid weight]
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) 7880 (2990 - 19700) 10 of 10
  Mono-PCB 95.3 (44.1 - 210) 10 of 10
  Di-PCB 154 (0 - 304) 9 of 10
  Tri-PCB 275 (41.3 - 540) 10 of 10
  Tetra-PCB 366 (140 - 873) 10 of 10
  Penta-PCB 671 (304 - 1300) 10 of 10
  Hexa-PCB 2760 (766 - 6890) 10 of 10
  Hepta-PCB 2400 (435 - 6870) 10 of 10
  Octa-PCB 889 (172 - 2740) 10 of 10
  Nona-PCB 191 (10.2 - 617) 10 of 10
  Deca-PCB 75.4 (6.55 - 211) 10 of 10
Polychlorinated naphthalene (PCNs) [parts per trillion lipid weight]
Polychlorinated naphthalenes (PCNs) 617 (295 - 964) 10 of 10
  Monochlorinated naphthalene 65.7 (3.2 - 216) 10 of 10
  Dichlorinated naphthalene 27.8 (1.1 - 79.3) 10 of 10
  Trichlorinated naphthalene 164 (104 - 315) 10 of 10
  Tetrachlorinated naphthalene 292 (127 - 409) 10 of 10
  Pentachlorinated naphthalene 30 (2.2 - 64.5) 10 of 10
  Hexachlorinated naphthalene 22.9 (2.2 - 111) 10 of 10
  Heptachlorinated naphthalene 12.4 (0 - 68.4) 3 of 10
  Octachlorinated naphthalene 2.81 (0 - 19.3) 2 of 10

 



Source: Chemical analyses of 10 umbilical cord blood samples conducted by AXYS Analytical Services (Sydney, BC) and Flett Research Ltd. (Winnipeg, MB).




The chemicals found in 10 newborns are linked to a number of health problems

Health Effect or Body System Affected

Number of chemicals found in 10 newborns tested that are linked to the listed health impact

Average number found in 10 newborns

Total found in all 10 newborns

Range 
(lowest and highest number found in individual newborns)

Cancer [1]

133

180 [2]

92 to 155

Birth Defects / Developmental Delays

151

208 [3]

101 to 176

Vision

1

[4]

0 to 1

Hormone System

153

211 [5]

104 to 179

Stomach Or Intestines

194

275 [6]

147 to 227

Kidney

128

174 [7]

84 to 149

Brain, Nervous System

157

217 [8]

108 to 183

Reproductive System

185

263 [9]

136 to 219

Lungs/breathing

144

200 [10]

93 to 170

Skin

159

226 [11]

115 to 187

Liver

40

46 [12]

30 to 45

Cardiovascular System Or Blood

162

226 [13]

117 to 190

Hearing

135

187 [14]

85 to 161

Immune System

130

177 [15]

89 to 151

Male Reproductive System

172

245 [16]

122 to 207

Female Reproductive System

142

196 [17]

92 to 168

 

* Some chemicals are associated with multiple health impacts, and appear in multiple categories in this table.

References for Health Effects
Footnotes


 

Guide to the chemical families tested in umbilical cord blood

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative, and lipophilic ("fat-loving"). This means that PCBs build up and are stored in fatty tissues and fluids, such as breast milk, and can be passed on to fetuses and infants during pregnancy and lactation. In humans PCBs are linked to increased rates of a number of cancers, including malignant melanoma; non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; and brain, liver, and lung cancer. PCB poisonings in humans have caused fetal and infant death, birth defects, and brain damage in children exposed in the womb. PCBs are known to interfere with hormonal processes. In 1976, the manufacture of PCBs was banned in the United States because of concern for human health impacts, but PCBs are still widely found in the general population of the U.S.

In humans, PCBs are associated with skin lesions, thyroid disruption, and altered menstrual cycling, as well as damage to the nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems. PCB exposure in the womb or during lactation is also associated with decreased IQ and impaired psychomotor development, decreased immune function and skin disease (chloracne) (ATSDR 2000a). The National Toxicology Program considers several PCB mixtures to be "reasonably anticipated" human carcinogens (NTP 2004). Likewise, EPA considers PCBs to be "probable" human carcinogens (EPA 2000a).

In laboratory animals, PCBs are known to cause cancer and damage to the reproductive, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. In addition, PCBs damage the kidney and gastrointestinal tract, and cause birth defects.

PCBs do not occur naturally. Through their manufacture, use and disposal PCBs were released into the air, water, and soil. They were used primarily in transformers and other electrical equipment. Some consumer products still in use today may contain electrical components containing PCBs. PCBs continue to enter the environment through leaks at hazardous waste sites, during trash incineration, and through illegal dumping. People are exposed primarily through eating high fat meat and dairy products and PCB-contaminated seafood (ATSDR 2004).


Organochlorine Pesticides (OCs). As a class, the organochlorine (OC) pesticides are toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative, and lipophilic ("fat-loving"). They build up in the body, are stored in fatty tissues and fluids, such as breast milk, and can be passed on to fetuses and infants during pregnancy and lactation. OC pesticides can harm the brain of humans and laboratory animals, which is not surprising since they were designed to attack the nervous system of insects. In addition, many OC pesticides disrupt the hormone system. This family of chemicals includes many pesticides banned in the U.S., including DDT and dieldrin.


Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs, or chlorinated dioxins and furans). Chlorinated dioxins and furans are unwanted byproducts of the manufacture and burning of products that contain chlorine. They cause cancer in humans, and they are generally considered to be among the most toxic environmental contaminants known to man. As a class, these chemicals are extremely toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative, and lipophilic ("fat-loving"). They build up in the body, are stored in fatty tissues and fluids, such as breast milk, and can be passed on to fetuses and infants during pregnancy and lactation. Most people are exposed to dioxin through the food they eat, primarily from meat, dairy, fish and eggs.

In humans, chlorinated dioxins and furans are associated with cancer, skin lesions, damage to the nervous system and immune system, altered carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, thyroid disruption, altered menstrual cycling, and cardiovascular effects.

In laboratory animals, the chemicals are known to cause a variety of effects including cancer and impaired reproductive, endocrine, cardiovascular, immune, respiratory, neurological and metabolic function. In addition, dioxins cause skin disease and birth defects (ATSDR 1994, 1998).


Methylmercury. Methylmercury is toxic to the developing fetal brain, and exposure in the womb can cause learning deficiencies and can delay mental development in children. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported data showing that one of every six American women of childbearing age already has mercury in her blood at levels that the National Academy of Sciences considers potentially unsafe for the developing fetus. Most women are exposed to methylmercury through seafood, which accumulates the metal, much of which is released to the environment from the burning of coal at coal fired power plants.

High dose methylmercury poisoning during development causes severe neurotoxicity, including mental retardation in humans (NAS 2000b). Methylmercury also causes developmental malformations and altered immune, reproductive, cardiovascular and kidney function (NAS 2000b).


Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are a group of chemicals formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage, or other organic substances, such as tobacco and charbroiled meat. Other sources of PAHs include asphalt and roofing tar. PAHs are found throughout the environment in air, water, and soil. There are more than 100 PAH compounds, and although the toxicity of individual PAHs is not identical, there are some similarities.

PAHs are linked to cancer in both animals and humans. In humans, PAH exposure by inhalation or skin contact has been linked to cancer. Laboratory studies show that PAHs cause tumors in laboratory animals when inhaled, ingested, or in contact with the skin. PAHs cause birth defects, are toxic to the skin, blood, reproductive and immune systems in animals. Although robust information exists for only some of the PAHs investigated in this study, studies show that toxicity profiles are likely similar across all chemicals in this family. EPA has determined that seven PAH chemicals are "probable" human carcinogens: benz[a]anthracene, benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene, chrysene, dibenz[a,h]anthracene, and indeno[ 1,2,3-c,d]pyrene. (ATSDR 1995).


Polybrominated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans (PBDD/Fs, or brominated dioxins and furans). Brominated dioxins and furans are toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative and lipophilic ('fat-loving'). They build up in human tissues, are stored in fatty tissues and fluid, such as breast milk, and can be passed on to fetuses and infants during pregnancy and lactation. Brominated dioxins and furans are formed unintentionally, either from incineration of wastes that include consumer products infused with brominated flame retardants like PBDEs, or as trace contaminants in mixtures of bromine-containing chemicals.

 

Brominated dioxins and furans have dioxin-like activity, meaning that they cause birth defects in animals and otherwise disrupt the reproductive development, immune and hormone systems. They add to the total dioxin body burden, which are near levels where effects may be occurring in the general population (Birnbaum 2003, EPA 2000a, WHO 1998).


Perfluorochemicals (PFCs). PFCs are industrial chemicals widely used as water, stain and grease repellants for food wrap, carpet, furniture, and clothing. The family includes such well known name brands as Scotchgard and Teflon. PFCs are also released to the environment in air and water emissions at numerous manufacturing and processing facilities worldwide, including primary production sites such as DuPont's Washington Works facility, WV; 3M's Cottage Grove, MN site, and Daikin's Decatur, AL plant. PFCs are likely also released to the environment at countless secondary manufacturing facilities, including sites where consumer products are coated for water, stain, and grease repellency.

But the dominant source of PFCs to the environment are likely fluorotelomer chemicals, the active ingredients in coatings of furniture, clothing, food packacking, and other products. Fluorotelomers break down in the environment and in the body to PFCs differing only in the carbon chain length and end group (Dinglasan et al. 2004; Ellis et al. 2004; Hagen et al. 1981). Most PFCs are fairly mobile in water, but due to low volatility of the persistent carboxy acids and sulfonates many do not have the potential to migrate in air far from locations of its release as a manufacturing pollutant. In contrast, studies indicate that PFC telomers are relatively volatile and could migrate long distances through the atmosphere (Ellis et al. 2004; Martin et al. 2004). Fluorotelomers are a likely source of the persistent perfluorochemicals found in newborns in this study, and in wildlife and water in areas remote from manufacturing sites and human populations.

Available scientific findings to date show that PFCs widely contaminate human blood (Kannan et al. 2004; Olsen 2002a; Olsen 2002b; Olsen 2002c), that they persist in the body for decades (Burris et al. 2002), that they act through a broad range of toxic mechanisms of action to present potential harm to a wide range of organs (ovaries, liver, kidney, spleen, thymus, thyroid, pituitary, testis), and that they persist indefinitely in the environment with no known biological or environmental breakdown mechanism (3M 2000, 3M 2001a, 3M 2001b, NAS 1972). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has described PFCs as combining "persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity properties to an extraordinary degree" (Auer 2000). Two individual PFCs that are associated with Teflon and Scotchard products are described below.

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is a synthetically produced chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon and other non-stick cookware. It is also used to make fluorinated chemicals used as fire retardants and for oil, stain, grease and water repellency for furniture, carpet, clothing, food packaging, and countless other applications (Kissa 2001). Importantly, PFOA is also a breakdown product and metabolite of many of these chemicals (Dinglasan et al. 2004, Ellis et al. 2004). PFOA causes testicular, breast, and pancreatic tumors in animals. PFOA has been linked with increased cholesterol, stroke, and prostate cancer in exposed workers. PFOA also suppresses the immune system, and affects the pituitary, spleen, ovaries, thymus, thyroid, testicles, liver, kidney, and reproductive system in laboratory animals.
  • Recently, the human health implications of widespread PFOA exposures has become a concern (EPA 2002a, 2003b), and in 2003 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a major review of PFOA that Agency's Assistant Administrator called "the most extensive scientific assessment ever undertaken on this type of chemical" (EPA 2003d). Currently there is considerable data on PFOA that is not yet publicly available. Court documents from a lawsuit filed by EPA over DuPont's alleged suppression of PFOA health studies (EPA 2004b) indicate that the Agency has recently received at least 15 boxes of additional data from DuPont, and potentially in excess of one million pages, comprising company studies and other documents relevant to human health and exposure (EPA 2004c). EPA is only now processing these documents.
  • Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). PFOS is a synthetically-produced chemical used for grease and water repellency for furniture, carpet, clothing and other applications. For decades it was the active ingredient in 3M's Scotchgard. 3M removed PFOS from the US market in 2001 under pressure from the EPA due its widespread pollution of people and the environment combined with its toxicity. In humans, PFOS has been linked with bladder, digestive tract, and male reproductive organ cancers. Other effects in humans have not been adequately studied. In animals, PFOS causes cancer, birth defects and other reproductive effects in animals (OECD 2002).

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). PBDEs are brominated fire retardants, intentionally added to computers, TVs, foam furniture, and hundreds of other consumer products. They are toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative and lipophilic ('fat-loving'). They build up in the body, are stored in fatty tissues and fluid, such as breast milk, and can be passed on to fetuses and infants during pregnancy and lactation. People are exposed through the food they eat, primarily meat, dairy, fish and eggs. They are also exposed through PBDE-containing products in their homes, offices and cars. Commercial uses and human exposure sources for three commercial mixtures of PBDEs are described below.

  • Penta commercial PBDE mixture. Penta is the common name for one of the three commercial PBDE mixtures. Penta was commonly added to foam products (mattresses, upholstered furniture, automobile seats, and carpet padding) manufactured before 2005. It was voluntarily phased out of production by 2005 in the wake of concerns over its toxicity and ubiquity in human breast milk, but will persist in the environment and people for decades to come. Single exposures to Penta in laboratory animals cause permanent impacts to learning, memory and behavior. These effects appear to grow worse with age. The period of greatest sensitivity in laboratory animals correlates with the third trimester of human pregnancy. Penta PBDEs are also know to cause hearing deficits, delayed puberty, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations, and possibly cancer (NIEHS 2001, deWit 2002).
  • Octa Commercial PBDE mixture. Octa is the common name for one of the three commercial PBDE mixtures. The vast majority of all Octa production was added to ABS plastics to slow the spread of fire. Octa made up about 15 percent of the weight of computer casings, until it was phased-out by 2005 due to concerns about its accumulation in people and the environment. People may be exposed to Octa through their diet or when the chemical is slowly released from products in their home, office or vehicle. Octa PBDEs have not been subject to the same level of scientific scrutiny as other PBDEs. Decades old studies have found reduced increased enzyme activity, fetal weights and fetal malformation at relatively high doses (NIEHS 2001, deWit 2002).
  • Deca Commercial PBDE mixture. Deca is the common name for one of the three commercial PBDE mixtures. Deca is the most widely used brominated fire retardant in the world. It is added to plastics in electronic products and sprayed on industrial fabrics to slow the spread of fire. Computer monitors, televisions, copiers and home appliances often contain Deca. People are exposed to Deca in foods and through Deca-containing products in their homes and workplace. Single exposures to Deca in laboratory animals cause permanent impacts to learning, memory and behavior. These effects appear to grow worse with age. The period of greatest sensitivity in laboratory animals correlates with the third trimester of human pregnancy. Deca is also know to cause hearing deficits, delayed puberty, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations, and possibly cancer (Viberg et al. 2003, de Wit 2002). Recent studies indicate that Deca breaks down into other forms of PBDEs, and may contribute to levels of penta and octa PBDE compounds in human tissues.

Polychlorinated Naphthalenes (PCNs). There are 75 possible chemical variations of PCNs. They have been used as cable insulation, wood preservatives, engine oil additives, electroplating masking compounds, capacitors, and in dye production (EPA 1983). Products are generally mixtures of several different PCNs. The largest source of PCNs believed to be waste incineration and disposal of items containing PCNs, although other potential sources of PCNs to the environment include sewage discharge from municipal and industrial sites, leaching from hazardous waste sites. PCNs are also unwanted byproducts formed after the chlorination of drinking water (Kuehl et al. 1984b, Vogelgesang 1986, Furlong et al. 1988, Lin et al. 1984, Shiraishi et al. 1985). They have not been used commercially in significant quantities since the 1980s.

PCNs are toxic and persistent. They bioaccumulate in people and are stored in fatty tissues. PCNs have not been tested for their ability to induce cancer. The toxic effects of many PCNs are thought to be similar to dioxin. In humans, severe skin reactions (chloracne) and liver disease have both been reported after occupational exposure to PCNs. Other symptoms found in workers include cirrhosis of the liver, irritation of the eyes, fatigue, headache, anaemia, haematuria, impotentia, anorexia, and nausea. At least 10 deaths were reported from liver toxicity. Workers exposed to PCNs also have a slightly higher risk of all cancers combined. (WHO 2001).


FOOTNOTES - HEALTH EFFECTS SUMMARY

[1] Chemicals listed as linked to cancer are those classified by the National Toxicology Program as "known" human carcinogens, or "reasonably anticipated" to be human carcinogens; or those classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as "known" or "probable" human carcinogens.

[2] Cancer: 1 Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 2 Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 12 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[3] Birth Defects / Developmental Delays: Mercury, 1 Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 2 Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 7 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), 32 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[4] Vision: 1 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC)

[5] Hormone System: Mercury, 1 Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 2 Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 10 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), 32 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[6] Stomach Or Intestines: Mercury, 5 Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 2 Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 20 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), 32 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE), 50 Polychlorinated Naphthalenes (CN), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[7] Kidney: Mercury, 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 2 Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 6 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[8] Brain, Nervous System: Mercury, 2 Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 17 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), 32 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[9] Reproductive System: Mercury, 3 Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 2 Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 10 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), 32 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE), 50 Polychlorinated Naphthalenes (CN), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[10] Lungs/breathing: Mercury, 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 2 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), 32 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[11] Skin: Mercury, 4 Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 6 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), 50 Polychlorinated Naphthalenes (CN), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[12] Liver: Mercury, 2 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), and 43 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[13] Cardiovascular System Or Blood: Mercury, 1 Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 2 Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 7 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), 50 Polychlorinated Naphthalenes (CN), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[14] Hearing: 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 1 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 32 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[15] Immune System: Mercury, 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 2 Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC), 11 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 9 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[16] Male Reproductive System: Mercury, 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 6 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 2 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), 32 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE), 50 Polychlorinated Naphthalenes (CN), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

[17] Female Reproductive System: 7 Brominated Dioxins and Furans (BD/F), 2 Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC), 6 Chlorinated Dioxins and Furans (D/F), 2 Organochlorine Pesticides (OC), 32 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE), and 147 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)