Here's a headline to cheer you up this morning: Potential Neuropoison Could Be in Our Food. That news comes from Wired Science, which reports that a potentially neurotoxic flame retardant called PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, could be in our food chain.
How's a flame retardant getting into our food chain? Researchers think it's due to the fact that old products containing PBDEs are going into landfills -- then leaching into the atmosphere, showing us that there really is no such thing as "away" when it comes to the trash we throw into the dumpster. Reports Wired: "Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that PBDEs were present in all U.S. coastal waters and the Great Lakes, with the highest levels found near urban and industrial areas."
Eco-nonprofit Environmental Working Group also suggests that the PBDE could be getting into produce through an industry storing and cooling process:
The food industry uses plastic pallets made with the toxic chemical Deca [a PBDE] to store certain fruits and vegetables. These pallets may go through a process called "hydrocooling," where they're submerged or water is sprayed over them to keep the produce fresh. As the water is reused, Deca leaching from the pallets can build up, eventually leaving residue on the food itself.
The story behind PBDE regulation in the U.S., unfortunately, sounds like the story of many potentially dangerous chemicals: Europe's banned most of the stuff, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hasn't -- despite the fact that researchers found "low doses caused neurological damage in laboratory animals, and the highest human PBDE levels were found in breast milk."
On the upside, California, Washington and Maine banned PBDEs since 2007 -- leading many manufacturers to stop or plan to stop using the stuff, according to Wired Science. The downside: The PBDEs already in our environment's staying in there -- and bioaccumulating in human bodies.
What can we do about PBDEs? You can start by eating less meat, since meateaters' bodies were found to have 25% higher PBDE levels than vegetarians : "That PBDEs would be highest in meat products makes sense, as the chemicals accumulate in fat, and it wouldn’t be hard for PBDEs to enter their feed and water." You might also start getting your produce fresh, whether it's through your own backyard garden or your local farmers' market, to avoid fruits and veggies that could be tainted with Deca.
You can also put your support -- and votes -- behind the Kid Safe Chemicals Act to get the EPA working better for Americans. Alicia Fraser, the environmental health researcher behind the PBDE study, "suggested that the United States adopt chemical regulations similar to those in the European Union, which in 2007 mandated that chemicals be thoroughly tested and proven safe before used. That’s the opposite of the U.S. system, where chemicals are assumed to be safe until it’s proved otherwise." The Kid Safe Chemical Act would do just what Alicia's asking for.