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Flame Retardent In Breast Milk Raises Concern

By Martin Mittelstaedt 
The Globe and Mail

 The breast milk of Canadian women contains the second-highest levels in the 
world of a compound used as a flame retardant in computer casings and 
household furniture, according to a new survey compiled by Health Canada.   

The highest amounts of the contaminants, known as polybrominated diphenyl 
ethers, or PBDEs, were detected in the milk of nursing U.S. mothers.   But women 
in Canada had levels about five to 10 times those in other advanced industrial 
countries, such as Japan, Sweden, and Germany.   The amounts in U.S. women 
were double those in Canada, and exceptionally high compared to those elsewhere 
in the world.  

 The international comparison was made by Jake Ryan, a research scientist at 
Health Canada, who is presenting the finding later today at a conference in 
Toronto devoted to the controversial chemicals, which some scientists fear may 
be as dangerous as the polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that were banned as 
an environmental hazard in the 1970s.   Health Canada official Samuel Ben 
Rejeb said the department is studying why levels in Canadian women are so much 
higher than elsewhere in the world.   Health Canada and Environment Canada 
recommended last month that some forms of PBDEs be declared toxic and eliminated 
from use. The European Union has already issued restrictions on the substances, 
and several U.S. states plan to follow suit.   "This is a poster-child chemical 
for something that ought to be zeroed out," says Tom Muir, a researcher at 
Environment Canada who has studied PBDEs and is worried they may be contributing 
to thyroid disorders and children's health problems.    

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