A new study suggests that diet is an important route of exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). PBDEs are a class of flame retardants that are commonly found in consumer products such as polyurethane foam, electronics and textiles.
PBDEs have been measured in dust, air and both animal- and plant-derived foods. Dust has been thought to be the foremost route of exposure to PBDEs, but the new findings of this study suggest that diet also may play a significant role. Serum levels of PBDE congeners were associated with consumption of fat from poultry and red meat but not with consumption of fish or dairy products.
Although it is not known how flame retardants get into commercial animal products, possibilities include the contamination of animal feed, contamination during processing or packaging and general contamination of the environment. PBDEs accumulate in fat tissue and resist degradation in the environment.
“Our study offers the first large-scale look at the effect of the American diet on PBDE body burdens showing significant associations with poultry and red meat consumption,” wrote the team of authors from the Boston University School of Public Health. “As PBDE-containing products continue to degrade and enter the waste stream in larger amounts, future exposure to PBDEs may begin to shift more heavily from the indoor environment to the outdoor environment and, consequently, the diet.”
PBDEs have been shown to cause adverse endocrine, neurologic and hepatic effects in laboratory animals. Human studies to date suggest PBDEs may affect male development, reproductive hormones and fertility and thyroid hormone homeostasis.
This research was supported in part by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
- Alicia J. Fraser, Thomas F. Webster and Michael D. McClean. Diet Contributes Significantly to the Body Burden of PBDEs in the General U.S. Population. Environmental Health Perspectives, online 18 June 2009 DOI: 10.1289/ehp.0900817
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