Studies Find High Level of Flame Retardant in Breast Milk

Video: Watch The Story

(New York-WABC, September 23, 2003) -- Alarming news for mothers who breast feed. A new study shows that many women may have a toxic chemical in their breast milk, and the source is in just about everyone's home or workplace.

There are two studies, one released today, showing that the toxic chemical used to make things fire resistant, polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, is showing up in breast milk of American women.

Not only is it present, but the levels of PDEs are ten to one hundred times higher than the breast milk of European women.

Experts are saying that there is no need to stop breast feeding. But the study raises a caution flag that the country should take a closer look at the manufacture and use of fire retardants.

PBDE's are everywhere -- in our computers, our televisions, even our furniture. Manufacturers claim that by preventing major fires, the chemical saves almost one thousand lives every year.

But a new study shows the fire safety comes at a price: a survey of 70 American mothers' breast milk found 10, even 20 times the amount of the toxic chemical than mother's milk in other countries.

Dr. Tim Johnson, ABC News: "It's time to pay attention, I call it a yellow flag instead of a red flag, it's time to think of an alternative flame retardant, try to lower the levels, that's what they're doing in Europe."

Starting next year, the European Union will ban PBDE from its consumer products because of health concerns.

The effects of the chemical on humans are still unclear-rodents subjected to the chemical showed signs of brain damage and even cancer -- but that doesn't necessarily mean humans would react the same way.

Dr. Judy Gurfein, Child Psychologist: "You can't always extrapolate from animals to humans. So I think it would be important for women not to panic and run out and stop breast feeding their children."

Mothers who heard about the study acknowledge the presence of a toxic chemical in breast milk is frightening -- but they say the health benefits of breast-feeding far outweigh the potential risk.

Laura McConville, Mother: "It was a great experience and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, and I still think it's the best thing for them."

Lynne Stewart, Mother: "By exposing them early, you're giving them the ability to fight anything they're exposed to."

The mothers reading this story are probably wondering how to avoid exposure to this chemical. Trouble is, no one knows exactly how PBDE gets into our bodies.

It could be in our homes, through household dust, or it could be through animal fat in the food we eat.

Again, experts warn the study is no reason to stop breast feeding.