A study published in the recent issue of Environmental Health Perspectives makes a startling discovery in samples of peanut butter, cold cuts and other fatty foods collected from the Dallas, Texas area: they all contain traces of a toxic flame retardant.
Authored by a University of Texas School of Public Health professor, the study found that nearly half of all items sampled tested positive for the toxin HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane), which, according to the EPA is "highly toxic" and capable of disrupting hormonal and reproductive function. HBCD's effects on children, even before they are born, are a big threat, and especially in this case where the toxin is found in peanut butter, a food often fed to children.
The chemicals are not used in processing, but rather, are likely winding up in the foods sampled through multiple channels including the air, water and soil. Sludge used on fields where crops are grown and animals graze are potentially contaminated with the chemicals.
Critics of the study say the levels of HBCD were well below those where any real risk to human health would be involved. But environmentalists and health experts say that HBCD is not the only chemical found in some of these foods, and the combination of chemicals can be a recipe for serious health risks. Other studies have found traces of other types of flame-retardants, PCBs, DDT, mercury and dioxins in food. Risks associated with HBCD have become so heightened that they may become the next group of chemicals banned globally, like DDT and PCBs through the Stockholm Convention.
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Image: Christian Cable