Brominated flame retardants in breast milk from the United States: First detection of bromophenols in U.S. breast milk

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Brominated flame retardants were first created in the 1970s to prevent burning in household electronics and appliances. Most people contact these compounds in their everyday lives because they are used in so many products. These compounds have been linked to cancer, diabetes, neurobehavioral and developmental disorders, and reproductive health problems. Scientists have recently found these chemicals detected in the breast milk of 50 people in the United States, presenting risks of transfer of toxic bromophenols to babies who are breastfed.

Abstract: Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are a class of compounds with many persistent, toxic, and bioaccumulative members. BFRs have been widely detected in breast milk, posing health risks for breastfeeding infants. Ten years after the phaseout of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the United States, we analyzed breast milk from 50 U.S. mothers for a suite of BFRs to assess current exposures to BFRs and the impact of changing use patterns on levels of PBDEs and current-use compounds in breast milk. Compounds analyzed included 37 PBDEs, 18 bromophenols, and 11 other BFRs. A total of 25 BFRs were detected, including 9 PBDEs, 8 bromophenols, and 8 other BFRs. PBDEs were found in every sample but at concentrations considerably lower than in previous North American samples, with a median ∑PBDE concentration (sum of 9 detected PBDEs) of 15.0 ng/g lipid (range 1.46–1170 ng/g lipid). Analysis of time trends in PBDE concentrations in North American breast milk indicated a significant decline since 2002, with a halving time for ∑PBDE concentrations of 12.2 years; comparison with previous samples from the northwest U.S region showed a 70% decline in median levels. Bromophenols were detected in 88% of samples with a median ∑12bromophenol concentration (sum of 12 detected bromophenols) of 0.996 ng/g lipid and reaching up to 71.1 ng/g lipid. Other BFRs were infrequently detected but concentrations reached up to 278 ng/g lipid. These results represent the first measurement of bromophenols and other replacement flame retardants in breast milk from U.S. mothers. In addition, these results provide data on current PBDE contamination in human milk, as PBDEs were last measured in U.S. breast milk ten years ago. The presence of phased-out PBDEs, bromophenols, and other current-use flame retardants in breast milk reflects ongoing prenatal exposure and increased risk for adverse impacts on infant development.

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