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Great Lakes Article:

Researchers Find Flame-Retardant Chemical in Mothers' Blood
Associated Press

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 padding.

"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 after birth.

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 humans.

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.

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