Researchers find flame retardant in food samples, according to UTHealth study

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Researchers find flame retardant in food samples, according to UTHealth study

Arnold Schecter, M.D., M.P.H., professor of environmental health at The University of Texas School of Public Health, part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

HOUSTON - (June 1, 2012) - Researchers at The University of Texas School of Public Health Dallas Regional Campus discovered the presence of a widely-used flame retardant, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), in food purchased in the United States.

"We believe food may be an important contributor to the levels of HBCD seen in recent human exposure studies," said Arnold Schecter, M.D., M.P.H., professor of environmental health at The University of Texas School of Public Health, part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

The study is published in the online edition of the Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the National Institutes of Health. Schecter believes this is the first study to compile detailed analysis of HBCD found in U.S. food.

HBCD is a brominated flame retardant used in home insulation materials and electrical equipment. According to Schecter, health concerns of HBCD exposure include potential alterations in immune and reproductive systems, neurotoxic effects in children and endocrine disruption.

Researchers reported HBCD levels in a wide variety of fat-rich foods purchased from Dallas, Texas supermarkets. Thirty-six individual food samples were tested. Researchers selected animal fat-containing foods because HBCD is a fat-soluble chemical. Study results found canned sardines, fresh salmon and peanut butter had the highest levels of HBCD.

"Research has shown these chemicals can stay in animals as well as in human blood and breast milk for a long time," said Schecter. "Although levels are lower than agencies believe to be a dangerous level, it is still cause for concern because fire retardants do not belong in food."

To reduce chemical exposure, Schecter recommends eating less food with animal fat and eating more fruits and vegetables, which tend to be low in flame retardants. “This research and other research of these chemicals call for the need in reducing the amount of chemicals our food supply is exposed to,” said Schecter. 

Co-authors of the study included Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the NIH.

Previous research conducted by Schecter and his colleagues found polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in butter paper wrapping, which led to butter contamination.

In that study, food samples were found to have contained high concentrations of deca-BDE, a PBDE compound widely used in electronics as well as in textiles, wire and cable insulation, and automobile and airplane components. Animal studies have linked consumption of deca-BDE with thyroid hormone changes in adult rodents and neurobehavioral changes in young rodents.

Jade Waddy
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