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Out of the frying pan and into our food!

Team TFS
Team TFS
bfrsIn general, we rarely consider the job of a cook to be as dangerous as that of a firefighter.  Well, surprisingly people in both jobs are at risk of exposure to high levels of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFR).

At the latest Dioxin Conference 2017, a study on the concentration of BFRs in plastic kitchen utensils was presented. I it concluded that the plastic kitchen utensils screened for bromine content showed an extremely high concentration of 1,2-bis(2,4,6-tribromophenoxy)ethane  (BTBPE). Cooking experiments were simulated to investigate BFR transfer from selected utensils to hot cooking oil. It turned out that a considerable transfer was observed. This means that BFR exposure – which can be dangerous - can happen through diet.

In another study, research has detected high levels of polychlorinated and polybrominated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs and PBDD/Fs) in the serum of twelve firefighters after a fire event in San Francisco, California. This study was conducted given the elevated incidence of cancer among firefighters, proving the importance of monitoring halogenated contaminants including PBDD/Fs for human exposure.

Human exposure is not limited to firefighters, but all consumers, and most worryingly children are constantly exposed to these hazardous components via toys and other food-contact articles  (FCAs). BFRs latch on to dust and other particles, so humans breathe them in or ingest them when dust settles on food.

Brominated flame retardants are organobromine compounds that are used mainly to reduce the flammability of products, especially those that have the tendency to heat up during use. Because BFRs are toxic for the environment and humans, as they are persistent, some of them are listed under the Stockholm Convention and thus their production and disposal is strictly regulated.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, a sub-category of brominated flame retardants have been used in a wide array of products, including electronics, furnishings, motor vehicles, airplanes, plastics, polyurethane foams, textiles and many more. Another issue is that poor recycling practices mix BFR-containing waste plastics with new uncontaminated plastics, which increases the distribution of BFRs further afield.

As the study on plastic kitchen utensils shows, BFRs and related compounds are everywhere including furniture and electronic appliances among many others, as they have been widely in use since the 1970s. The global consumption of Flame Retardant Chemicals is expected to  reach £5.6 Billion in 2017 and £7.3 Billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 5.4%.

The bioaccumulation tendency of BFRs, in animals and humans, through contamination of food, particularly meat and dairy products, even breast-milk occurs as they are fat soluble. This is even more relevant when BFRs are contained in FCAs as in the case of kitchen utensils. The European commission defines FCAs as ‘materials that are either intended to be brought into contact with food, are already in contact with food, or can reasonably be brought into contact with food or transfer their constituents to the food under normal or foreseeable use.’

 This includes direct or indirect contact.

Examples include:

  • containers for transporting food

  • machinery to process food

  • packaging materials

  • kitchenware and tableware

In many cases FCAs -- as in the case of kitchen utensils -- are made from recycled plastics. Therefore, there is the need to better track the origin of toxic substances in recycled items. This will help to prevent the spread and bioaccumulation of BFRs in the environment and, as a consequence, in people.

As there is increasing concern over the toxicity and distribution of a number of classes of brominated compounds, analytical instrumentations come to help with sensitivity of detection and with high throughput capabilities. For example, at the latest BFR Conference in York, the capabilities of different GC-MS systems were presented for the analysis of BFRs --one of these solutions is the Thermo Scientific DFS Magnetic Sector.

Next time you think about a dangerous job… think about cooks!

Watch the on-demand webinars on POPs and Food Contact Materials and download the POPs brochure and food contact materials brochure.

Did you miss the Thermo Scientific seminars at Dioxin 2017? Check out the presentations here:

Discover the Thermo Scientific GC-MS portfolio for the analysis of BFRs and Dioxins here:

Visit the new page for the Gold Standard for Dioxins and POPs