Pollution is everywhere these days–it’s even part of your next holiday dinner! Scientists have documented what they think is the worst US case of food contamination with polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants. The incident also marks the first time food contamination has been thought to result from PBDEs in a food’s packaging. One of ten samples of butter purchased at five Dallas grocery stores 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.
The contamination came to light during a routine investigation intended to help scientists improve estimates of the amount of PBDEs and other persistent organic pollutants people inadvertently consume in food. Scientists have detected low levels of these compounds in many fat-rich foods including fish such as salmon, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Further investigation revealed the butter’s paper wrapper had PBDE levels more than 16 times greater than levels in the butter itself. It is unclear whether the paper was contaminated before or after it reached the butter packaging plant. The source of the contamination also is unclear.
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