High concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) found in the U.S. population are a cause for concern because of these compounds' similarity to polychlorinated biphenyls. Unlike the latter, which have recently decreased in blood levels, PBDEs have increased substantially in the last two to three decades. A new U.S. "market basket" survey measuring values of PBDEs in grocery store foods shows which chemicals within this class are taken in by eating and adds to a growing body of evidence that food is only part of how humans are exposed to these chemicals [EHP 114:1515-1520; Schecter et al.]. This article is also the first to estimate U.S. PBDE intake via food from infancy to old age.
PBDEs are flame retardants applied to fabrics, incorporated into plastics and electronics, and mixed into the foam cushioning used in furniture. The behavior of PBDE congeners can differ due to variable physical, chemical, and biological properties. Though human health effects are not yet well understood, PBDEs' reach in animal studies includes reproductive and developmental toxicity, endocrine disruption, cancer, and central nervous system effects. High levels of PBDEs have been found in human milk, blood, and adipose tissue, as well as in food. U.S. blood and breast milk samples have shown levels 10 to 20 times higher than similar samples from Europeans.
The team used high-resolution mass spectrometry to measure 13 different PBDE congeners in samples of 62 basic foods including fresh and processed meats, fish, milk products, and eggs. …