A new study of breast milk samples from more than 300 women in North Carolina found PBDEs, or flame retardants, in the milk from almost three-quarters of the woman in the study. The younger the mom, the more contaminated her breast milk was likely to be.

PBDEs are chemical compounds used in electronics, furniture, carpeting and textiles to reduce the risk of fire. Animal studies have shown that early exposure to PBDEs is associated with altered thyroid hormone function, hyperactivity and poor learning and memory. Human health effects are not so well understood.

Most Americans have detectable levels of PBDEs in their blood that they have picked up from dust, food and other sources. The North Carolina study was not the first one to find PBDEs in breast milk, but it was the first to correlate the age of the mother with the level of toxins in her milk.

In the study, women older than 35 had the lowest levels of PBDEs in their milk. The highest levels were measured in breast milk from women aged 25 to 29, followed by women younger than 25 years old. The results suggest that younger mothers may have higher exposure to these flame retardant chemicals through their environment or lifestyles.

Another interesting note from the study is that PBDE concentrations did not decrease over time in mothers who have breastfed longer. This is different from other persistent pollutants, such as PCBs or DDT, which have been shown to decrease in the mother’s body and her breast milk with longer breastfeeding.

Photo: kitty sanchez

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