Researchers Find Flame-Retardant
Chemical in Mothers' Blood
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Indiana University researchers have
found a common chemical flame retardant in the blood of
mothers and their newborn infants.
Levels of polybrominated diphenyl ether, or PBDE, in
Indiana women and infants tested 20 times higher than
levels reported in Sweden and Norway, where a ban on the
chemical was slated to go into effect this year.
The study was published this week in the online edition
of Environmental Health Perspectives. A companion study
in California, also published this week, found similar
levels of the chemical that is commonly used in foam furniture
"Why is the U.S. high? We don't really know,"
said Ron Hites, a professor at IU's School of Public and
Environmental Affairs who was involved in the study along
with IU chemists and doctors.
The scientists analyzed blood samples taken from 12 Indiana
mothers and their babies' umbilical cords immediately
It is not the first time the chemical has been found
in humans. In 1998, Swedish scientists reported that levels
of PBDE in breast milk had increased 40-fold since 1972.
And a study published in 2001 by the journal Environmental
Science & Technology found that North American mothers
have breast-milk PBDE levels at least 40 times the highest
concentrations found in Sweden.
Little is known about the toxic nature of PBDE. Early
studies in mice show it poses some of the same dangers
as PCBs and DDT, which were banned in the United States
decades ago for their myriad detrimental effects on animal
and human health.
But those experiments involved relatively large amounts
of PBDE given to animals over a short time. Nobody really
knows how lower doses delivered over decades will affect
Like PCBs and DDT, PBDE is a persistent organic pollutant,
or POP. POPs can remain in the environment for years without
breaking down. Some of these pollutants have such an affinity
for fat that they build up in the bodies of both animals
and humans from before birth until death.
Researchers plan plan additional studies of PBDE levels
in mothers and babies, and Hites said he has obtained
funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
to look for the chemicals in archived fish samples from
the Great Lakes.