Flame retardants for breakfast

High concentrations of flame retardants have shown up in butter and other U.S. food products, a new study found. The most heavily contaminated food analyzed was butter, possibly due to its wrapping paper or an electrical incident at the manufacturing plant. The second most contaminated foods were salmon and canned sardines.

Published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives, the study explains how researchers tested 10 samples of 31 different food types from Dallas, Texas, grocery stores for the flame retardants polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) and hexabromocyclodecanes (HBCDs).

Flame retardants have been linked to developmental, reproductive and neurological problems, as well as cancer. PBDEs, the type that showed up in the butter, have been reduced or phased out among U.S. manufacturers, but the tough-to-degrade chemicals persist in the environment. HBCDs, however, are still widely used for production in the United States, primarily for polystyrene foams in furniture, building insulation and as PBDE substitutes in some plastics, electronics and fabrics.

It’s unclear how widespread the problem is because no federal agencies track levels of flame retardants in food. The recently passed food safety bill focuses on bacteria, not chemicals. This study suggests similar measures be made to prevent and detect chemicals within the U.S. food system.