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Web page updated March 12, 2012
Original story by Marianne White
From canada.com March 8, 2012
QUEBEC — Flame-retardants found in many household products,
electronics and cars make their way into breast milk, according to
a new Canadian study.
A team of researchers led by Larissa Takser from the University
of Sherbrooke studied 87 samples of human milk collected in two
Canadian cities of similar sizes: Kingston, Ont., and
They found traces of two flame-retardants — dechlorane plus
(DP) and polybrominated diphenylether (PBDE) — in all samples,
according to their findings published in the latest edition of the Environment International.
They also found no difference in levels of flame-retardants between the two cities, even
though Kingston is considered more polluted than Sherbrooke.
"This shows that exposition to flame-retardants is the same, no matter where you are in
Canada," said Takser.
The concentrations of PBDE congeners found in breast milk had an average value between
3.0 to 10 ng/g (or parts per billion) of lipids.
She noted those concentrations are five to 10 times higher than what has been reported in
studies conducted in Europe, where PBDE, an older generation fire-retardant, has been
banned for several years because of its presumed toxicity.
The levels of DP measured in Tasker's study were two to 10 times lower than levels of PBDE,
which can be explained by the fact DP is a newer generation chemical.
Takser noted the research is part of a wider epidemiological study called GESTE, which is
looking at the relation between PBDE exposure, thyroid disruption and child development.
In a study slated to be published in March in the American Journal of Epidemiology by Takser
and her team, the researchers studied breast milk of some 400 Canadian women.
"Traces of flame-retardants were found in about 96 per cent of cases," said Takser, who
studies environmental contaminants at the University of Sherbrooke.
She noted studies have shown that PBDE can affect human health and that it causes thyroid
disruption in animals.
"We are investigating to see whether it does the same thing to humans and if so, it could
probably be involved in behavioural dysfunction, such as hyperactivity, in children," she said.
Takser believes this is cause for concern for most Canadians because those chemicals are
extremely persistent and have the ability of leaching out of products into our environment.
"Our entire ecosystem is contaminated, breast milk is only a marker that we have used," she
Takser chose to look at human milk because it is very fatty and fire-retardant chemicals latch
"Our goal is not to scare nursing mothers," she said. "These chemicals are present in our
houses and there isn't much we can do to shield us from exposure."
She noted that it will likely take years before further evidence is gathered to prove the effects
of PBDE and new generation flame-retardants like DP on humans.
An American study published last year in Environmental Science and Technology found that
flame-retardant chemicals are widespread in babies and children's products, such as car
Other studies have detected the fire-retardant chemicals in household dust and breast milk in
Study finds bromide flame-retardants in breast milk