Eamon Brett/FlickrTexas researchers found high levels of contaminant in a sample of butter.
Chemicals used to prevent or dampen fires in electronics, furniture and upholstery are showing up in our food chain.
Researchers at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas found high levels of the flame retardants known as PBDEs in a sample of butter.
The scientists say the contaminated sample was just one of ten samples tested, but the levels were so high the researchers are calling for government health officials to begin inspecting and investigating food samples at all stages of processing.
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of U.S. butter contaminated with PBDEs," wrote the scientists in a paper, which appeared online Tuesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The researchers believe the butter wrapper was the source of contamination, and they speculate that Deca-PBDE, which is being phased out of U.S. production, somehow got into the wrapping.
The study was one of many conducted by the team looking at chemical toxins and contaminants in the U.S. diet.
Nobody really knows what the effects of flame retardants are on people. But Californians have the highest recorded levels of these chemicals in their bodies in the world.
Studies suggest the chemicals may be linked to thyroid problems, permanent learning and memory impairment, behavioral changes, hearing loss, delayed puberty onset, decreased sperm count, birth defects and cancer.
Studies conducted on animals exposed to the chemicals have found that fetuses and newborns are much more vulnerable to the effects of these flame retardants than adults. And some of these studies have found toxic effects at levels lower than are now detected in American women.
"While it was nice that we did these studies and came up with these findings," said Arnold Schecter, lead author of the study, "we do need to get a larger more representative sampling for PBDEs and other chemicals."
He said all the sampling he has done, so far, on American food has made it "clear that we really do need the federal government to see that the food is not contaminated with toxic chemicals."
The authors declined to name the brand of butter with the high levels of PBDEs.
"This would appear to be an isolated incident not representative of the product category, but based on the facts presented, further investigation is warranted,” the National Milk Producers Federation said in a statement.