Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Providing Safe Foods: Flooding of farmland does not increase levels of potentially harmful flame retardants in milk

October 10, 2011

Flooding of farmland

Flooding of farmland increases levels of potentially harmful flame retardants in soil, but
the higher levels don’t appear to find their way into the milk produced by cows that graze
on these lands.Credit: Marilee Caliendo/FEMA

Summary

As millions of acres of farmland in the U.S. Midwest and South recover from Mississippi River flooding, scientists report that river flooding can increase levels of potentially harmful flame retardants in farm soils. But the higher levels apparently do not find their way into the milk produced by cows that graze on these lands, according to a study in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Here’s the study’s lead author Iain Lake, Ph.D., of the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom…

“The flame retardants known as ‘PBDEs’ are found in a variety of common household products, including furniture upholstery, clothes, plastics and electrical equipment. These substances are increasingly associated with hormone disruption, neurotoxicity and even possibly with cancer.”

Fatty foods such as milk and meat accumulate PBDEs, making those foods a potentially significant source of the substances for humans.

Working along the River Trent in the U.K., the researchers examined whether PBDE levels in the soils, grass, and milk obtained from grazing cows would differ between flood-prone and non-flooded farms along the river. While flood-prone fields contained significantly higher levels of PBDE from river sediments, this increase did not translate into higher PBDE levels in the grass growing in the soils.

"We found no clear evidence that the grazing of dairy cattle on flood-prone pastures on an urban and industrial river system leads to elevated PBDE levels in milk."

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Katie Cottingham.

Every Thanksgiving, family and friends gather to celebrate round dinner tables heaped high with roast turkey and other traditional dishes. There’s praise and thanks for the food, of course. But we’re also thankful for all the year’s blessings. For good health. For the love and support of family and friends. Maybe we should add a word of thanksgiving for the scientific advances that are helping to keep our food supply safe from a host of threats that can really spoil a meal.
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