September 23, 2003


Flame retardant found in breast milk (Elizabeth Weise, 9/23/03, USA TODAY)

A toxic chemical used to make furniture, foam and electronics fire resistant is turning up in high amounts in the breast milk of women in the USA.

Two studies, one out Tuesday, found that all of the women tested were contaminated with polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Their PBDE levels were the highest in the world: 10 to 20 times higher than those in Europe, where the chemicals are being phased out. (Related story: Breast milk can protect baby)

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit environmental research organization, tested the milk of 20 women. It found levels ranging from 9.5 to 1,078 parts per billion. The women were recruited via EWG's Web site.

It is not yet known how this chemical affects people; no studies have been done on what a safe level would be. But "this is another wake-up call," says Linda Birnbaum, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's experimental toxicology lab. Levels of PBDEs in humans are doubling every two to five years, she says. [...]

Though the USA has the world's toughest flame retardancy standards, 3,000 people die in fires each year. The Chemical Manufacturers Association estimates the number would be up to 960 higher without such flame retardants.

It would be ironic if the Left's insistence on putting these chemicals in everything were leading to them getting into us too, but is there any actual science in this story? A mere twenty subjects and recruited through a website? The chemical manufacturers' estimate of how many lives their chemicals save? Why not ask Similac if their formula is safer than mothers' milk?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 23, 2003 8:40 AM

Similac says upfront that mother's milk is best. Check out any of its advertising and promotional material.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at September 23, 2003 9:03 AM

It's toxic but we don't know what a safe level is? What on earth does that mean? It may cause developmental issues in rats, which doesn't tell us anything about human effects (and this data was useful because...?)

I assume that it's toxic in very high doses, but then so is distilled water.

None of which is to say it isn't nasty stuff, but this would seem to call for more research, not my-god-its-a-dangerous-CHEMICAL panic.

Posted by: Mike Earl at September 23, 2003 10:09 AM

Has the EPA ever tested for arsenic in breast milk? Have the Clintons ever brayed about it in public?

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 23, 2003 12:50 PM

As Mike gets close to saying, all chemicals are toxic, in large enough doses. The first rule of toxicology is "The dose makes the poison." A $1 jar of salt would kill you if you swallowed all of it at once. So "toxic" is a free word -- mother's milk has all manner of toxic chemicals in it, including salt. But what they're saying is, they have no evidence that the levels found in mother's milk are toxic. Odds are, they pose no danger whatsoever.

Posted by: pj at September 23, 2003 1:33 PM

I'm at least comforted that I don't have to worry about spontaneous combustion next time I warm a bottle for the wee one.

Posted by: The Other Brother at September 23, 2003 1:58 PM