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Fire retardants found in Canadian foods

Thursday, February 17, 2005

New tests by Toronto's Globe and Mail and CTV News show some of the world's highest levels of chemical fire retardants in common Canadian foods. The search for likely sources of the chemicals began when fire retardants were found in breast milk in studies beginning in 2003.

Though the effects of these chemicals, called PBDEs, on humans are uncertain, in animal tests they affect memory and learning, and can alter thyroid hormone levels, which may stunt growth. Toddlers and breast-feeding infants are most at risk.

Fire retardants were found in almost all the 13 foods tested, including farmed rainbow trout, farmed Atlantic salmon, sausage, butter, cheese and milk. The chemicals were not found in chicken. Fire retardants and other environmental toxins accumulate in fat, so leaner foods generally have lower levels of chemicals.

The levels in individual foods were low, but because fire retardants accumulate in the body, exposure over a long period of time could lead to developmental problems, possibly including disorders such as ADHD. PBDEs may pose the same threats to humans as a related family of chemicals, carcinogenic PCBs, which were banned in the 1970s after they were found to cause birth defects and neurological disorders and increase the risk of some cancers.

The Environmental Working Group performed tests for PBDEs on household dust in 2004, finding three prevalent fire retardants: Octa, Penta and Deca. The federal government removed the first two from the market at the end of 2004, but EWG's results found the third, Deca, to be the predominant contaminant in half its sampled homes. Deca also breaks down into the other two forms of PBDEs, rendering their removal useless without their cohort.

To view EWG's studies on toxic fire retardants, please visit EWG's reports In the Dust and Mothers' Milk.


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