Toxic fire retardants found in U.S. women's breast milk

Study Urges Chemical Ban, But Says Breastfeeding Still Best for Baby & Mom

In the first nationwide tests for chemical fire retardants in the breast milk of American mothers, Environmental Working Group (EWG) found unexpectedly high levels of fire retardants, little-known thyroid toxins, in every woman tested. Milk from several of the mothers in EWG's study had among the highest levels of these chemicals yet detected worldwide.

Brominated fire retardants are used in hundreds of products including computers, TVs, cars and furniture and they persist in the environment for decades and build up in people's bodies over a lifetime. While dozens of earlier studies have linked chemical fire retardants to adverse health effects, EWG has conducted the first nationwide test for the presence of the chemicals in people.

Europe has banned some fire retardants starting next year and experts say they are not necessary for safety, but they remain unregulated in the U.S. California recently passed a law banning some fire retardants, but it does not take effect until 2008. By then, says EWG, another 365 million pounds of the chemicals will be in American homes, businesses, schools and people.

For the study, 20 first-time mothers from 17 cities in 14 states donated samples of breast milk that were analyzed by an accredited laboratory. The average level of brominated fire retardants in the milk samples was 75 times higher than the average for Swedish women and were at levels associated with toxic effects in several studies using laboratory animals.

"Breastfeeding remains the single most important choice mothers can make for the health of their babies," said EWG Analyst Sonya Lunder, co-author of Mothers' Milk, available at "But finding these chemicals in breast milk shows the shocking extent to which industrial toxins are invading our bodies. Brominated fire retardants don't belong in breast milk, they don't belong in babies, and they should be phased out as soon as possible."

Scientists know fire retardants are harmful, but they don't know how they get from couches and computers into our bodies. Like most industrial chemicals, under federal law they were allowed on the market with inadequate safety testing.

The report emphasizes that mothers should continue breastfeeding, which provides innumerable benefits to mothers and babies. But women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can reduce their exposure to fire retardants by avoiding contact with foam padding, and buying products with natural fibers that are naturally fire-resistant.

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