Flame retardants found in fish, meat, peanut butter

By Chelsea Whyte on June 1, 2012 8:12 PM EDT

SALMON
Dinner or danger? Common foods found to have flame retardant can expose you to toxic chemicals. (Photo: Emmawatson23)

Flame retardants are commonly found in household furniture and consumer electronics, and the chemicals they're made of can find their way into our bodies through dust in the air. Now, those same toxins are showing up in everyday foods. 

A new study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives this week examined high-fat foods like peanut butter, fish, deli meat, and chili with beans and found that 15 of 36 foods had detectable levels of the chemical HBCD, a common flame retardant.The study highlights growing concerns over the adverse impacts of flame retardants that are used in foam insulation, upholstery fabrics, and electrical equipment and may have very little effect when it comes to stopping fire.

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"It's getting into us, and some of it is getting into us from food," Dr. Arnold Schecter, a professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and lead author of the paper, told Mother Jones

The foods with detectable HBCD levels include: sardines in water, smoked turkey sausages, fresh salmon, sardines in olive oil, fresh catfish, fresh deli-sliced turkey, fresh deli-sliced ham, fresh tilapia, and chili with beans, as reported by WebMD.

The study used foods from Dallas-area grocery stores, and the authors suggest a larger, more representative sampling of U.S. food be tested to determine how wide-spread the problem is in the States. The study cites husbandry practices and potential contamination in animal feed, as well as food packaging, as possible sources of the toxin.

"We really don't know how broadly representative this might be of American foods in general. They are persistent chemicals. They are going to last in our bodies a long time," said Linda S. Birnbaum, a study co-researcher and director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, according to WebMD.

These chemicals have long lives, and can cause damage even after the food that brought them into the body has long been digested.

"What we're seeing are chemicals that can cause endocrine disruption, that can cause nervous system damage, that can cause reproductive damage, that can cause developmental damage, that can cause cancer in some cases," Schecter told Discovery News.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering adding HBCD to its list of 'Chemicals of Concern' and it is considered of 'very high concern' by the European Union, but until HBCD is banned Schechter suggests eating fewer animal products, and choosing leaner, broiled meats when you do indulge.

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