Study: Flame retardant found in small butter sample
December 7th, 2010
12:01 AM ET

Study: Flame retardant found in small butter sample

A stick of butter purchased at a Dallas grocery story contained high levels of a flame retardant used in electronics, according to environmental scientists at the University of Texas School of Public Health.

The butter was contaminated with a chemical called polybrominated diphenyl ether, or PBDE.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of U.S. butter contaminated with PBDEs," said lead research Arnold Schecter, whose study was published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The butter was purchased last year as part of a small research project to test for contaminates. The butter stick's wrapper contained even higher amounts of PBDEs. The source of the contamination remains a mystery.

"Flame retardants were not made to be eaten. They're made to slow down the smoke in fires. They're not a food component. They don't belong there," said Schecter. "Either the paper was contaminated before it reached the butter factory, or somehow it managed to get contaminated at the factory itself."

95 percent of Americans have flame retardant chemicals in their body, according to Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group. Lunder, who was not affiliated with the study, found the researcher's revelation baffling.

"There is a bulk of fire retardants out there in our environment, and that is generally yucky," she said. "These are much higher than you would expect compared to what you find in fish and other products."

The health effects of PBDEs on humans, especially developing children, are not fully known. In animal studies, PBDEs are associated with liver cancer and neurobehavioral alterations.

By Lunder's calculation, a 40-pound child would need to eat only 3 percent of a stick of contaminated butter to exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's daily safe exposure level for PBDE-209, the main component in PBDE.

According to Schecter, the contaminated butter was produced by a large, well-known Midwestern company. The study authors declined to identify the company, citing the small scope of their investigation.

"It can happen, and it did happen, but we don't know how frequent or infrequent it is," Schecter said. "We did not want to point the finger at any one company."

In a statement the National Milk Producers Federation said, "This would appear to be an isolated incident not representative of the product category, but based on the facts presented, further investigation is warranted.”

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soundoff (169 Responses)
  1. OtvoriteOci

    Well, I'll bet it's hard as he!! to light your Bananas Foster using that butter.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Besserwisser

    He was the head of at least one of these studies (the same one?). Dr. Arnold Schecter is Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health at Dallas. Dr. Schecter holds a B.A. and a B.S. from the University of Chicago, an M.D. from Howard University Medical School, and an M.P.H. from Columbia University School of Public Health. Dr. Schecter has researched dioxins and Agent Orange in the U.S. and in Vietnam since 1984 and published over 100 articles in peer reviewed scientific journals on dioxin related topics, exposure, and epidemiology. Major findings of Dr. Schecter’s research include the first U.S. demonstration of blood and fat tissue congener specific dioxin and dibenzofuran patterns for exposure assessment and correlation between environmental and blood and fat congener levels, and findings that TCDD is currently still elevated in Vietnamese milk, blood, food, and some parts of the environment but not in most locations. He was among the first to report dioxins are present in all Americans tested, not only specially exposed persons. He is coauthor of Ranch Hand publications showing an association between elevated TCDD blood levels and prostate and skin cancers in Vietnam veteran sprayers of Agent Orange. His research has also found that food is still contaminated in some parts of Vietnam from Agent Orange and can be a current source of TCDD intake. He edited the first and second editions of the reference text, Dioxins and Health, published by Plenum and John Wiley and Sons (2003), respectively. He edited the Environmental Sections of the 13th and 14th Editions of Maxcy Rosenau Last's Public Health and Preventive Medicine. Recently, he began studying PBDEs and has found that PBDEs were in all samples measured of U.S. breast milk and blood, the highest levels worldwide in humans are in the U.S., that elevated contamination of BDE 209 and other PBDEs can be found in house dust and in household drier lint as well as computer cases, and that PBDEs are found in all fish, dairy and meat products, and low levels in most fruit and vegetables in the U.S. He reported decreasing dioxins and PCBs in Americans and increasing PBDEs over three decades in the US.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. jamr

    People, People, do you REALLY want to know what EXACTLY is in your food? You would stop eating!

    December 7, 2010 at 11:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. It's Not Butter

    The government is scheming to keep us safe again. No more spontaneous combustion while eating biscuits, folks. Only dairy terrorists spontaneously combust.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • marie breeze

      I eat Lurpak butter, can you please tell me if this is ok ? it is so hard to find the butter you talk about, can you tell me where to buy it ? I live in Lincolnshire UK., this is a farming county. Thank you.

      November 6, 2013 at 09:27 | Report abuse |
  5. Pam

    We should all be eating organic, locally grown food whenever possible, preferably from growers we actually know or whom we have researched, until we can get the mainstream food industry to clean up it's act. When we all take that much care in what we eat, the companies will comply with our standards.

    December 7, 2010 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. ConcernedNetizen

    Soo.... do we get to know what the magic butter brand is, or would that cause too much "economic damage" to the butter company??? Maybe we should just wait for the brand name to go by in a diplomatic cable and catch it on wiki..

    December 7, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. RUSH

    OMG – they said RETARD...i thought that word was illegal now 😛

    December 7, 2010 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. mo

    that had this tory on teh discovery web site they said the butter maker is near the twin cities in Minn. but would not give the name .I bet it came off the wrpper .I going out on a limb here but I would guess those wrappers were printed outside of the US.There is one country that comes to mind.

    December 7, 2010 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. jjh

    These compounds have also been found elsewhere: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/article869032.ece

    December 7, 2010 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Suzanne

    @ h3110w0r1d:
    Yeah, the government "sucks at everything it does," but you'll have your hand out for your Social security check (or your unemployment benefits or your tax refund.....) when it comes time to collect.....THEN the government will be your big ol' buddy, now, won't it??? HYPOCRITE.
    Go live "off the grid" and see how long you can last without "the government."

    December 7, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. nancy

    I also want to know the company and why there has not been a recall.

    December 7, 2010 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrsFizzy

      FDA has not established any limit for this substance...so technically, there's nothing wrong with it!

      December 7, 2010 at 13:46 | Report abuse |
  12. lilly

    Is it a news? There are flame retardant chemicals in almost every furniture, linens, carpets, electronics. You getting your daily dose just sitting on your couch for 2 hours. Do you know your mattress is full of them, even your baby's cribmattress?These carcinogen chemicals banned in Europe a long time ago, but we are still getting poisoned day after day. Blood tests show 70-240 times higher levels of these chemicals in Americans compare to Europians, and it starts in the womb. America needs to wake up before it's too late. Is it worth to save a couple people from smoke but slowly kill everybody else???

    December 7, 2010 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Unreal

    In related news, public safety officials have reported a dramatic drop in cooking fires in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.

    December 7, 2010 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. E.Ham

    All butter has a mandated fire retardant component as a response to the Mont Blanc tunnel disaster, caused by a truck load of butter that caught fire.

    December 7, 2010 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Red/NJ

    the comment about universal health care Canadians come to the united states because the waiting list in their county for help is so long they would be dead before it was their turn.

    December 7, 2010 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Nurse Lisa

    so did they even let the company know so more testing can be done on their butter and their wrappers? How is this not a public health hazard if they choose to just ignore the potential of toxic exposure just because their yr old sample was small? How dare CNN post this as a most popular story but edit our the who what when where how details of good reporting

    December 7, 2010 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrsFizzy

      I understand the study writers didn't disclose it. I agree with you, but – if they required testing and recalls of this butter as a public health hazard ...where would it end? This stuff and other equally damaging chemicals are in more than just one brand of butter!

      December 7, 2010 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Here's the good parts from the study:
      "One sample was found to contain significantly elevated levels
      of higher brominated congeners compared to the other 9 samples. By chance, the wrapping paper
      from this sample had not been discarded and was available for analysis."

      "The type of contamination in butter sample 10, which resembled commercial deca-BDE pattern, is most
      likely from the paper wrapper contamination with octa- and deca-BDE, either from electronic
      devices in the butter processing plant or from contamination of the paper prior to delivery. The
      company has investigated the source of contamination but has not shared its findings with the
      authors to date. While the route of contamination remains unknown at this time, the congener
      distribution in the butter wrapper suggests contamination with the deca-BDE commercial
      mixtures including evidence of some breakdown of the congeners found in deca-BDE to lower
      brominated congeners."

      December 7, 2010 at 18:07 | Report abuse |
  17. S.

    How likely is it that the cows that ate the grass, oops; the corn feed, drank the tanked water.... have such high concentrations in their bodies they are simply passing it on in the milk!?? Pretty likely I would guess.

    December 7, 2010 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Lola

    "...and that is generally yucky." That was actually uttered by a "senior analyst" with the EWG? OMG.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. razzlea

    Check out my health and fitness blog http://razzlea.blogspot.com/

    December 7, 2010 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Lola

    A little more detail from another source: Ten butter samples were taken from that grocery store. "The contaminated sample of butter contained PBDEs that were 135 times the average amount found in the other nine samples and was particularly high in the dangerous deca-BDE. The butter's paper wrapper had levels more than 16 times greater than in the butter itself."

    Sure sounds to be that the source of the contamination was the wrapping paper. butter absorbs odors very effectively, so it would stand to reason it would absorb any chemical contaminates equally effectively.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Lola


    December 7, 2010 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Lola

    More info, from Discovery News: "After talking with representatives from the company that made the butter, Schecter suspects that an electrical incident was to blame. If there was a fire or overheating in machines that contain PBDE flame-retardants, the chemicals could have ended up in the paper and later migrated into the butter.

    Schecter wouldn't name the manufacturer, but he hinted that its headquarters are located near the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and he said that the company had recently advertised that it was using new and improved wrappers for its butter."

    Buy local and organic.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. charles s

    I hope that the FDA will initiate a further study to determine if this was an isolated event or something that is working its way up the food chain.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. friend1390

    It would help if we shut these huge agrabusinesses down, break them up like we should break up the banks

    December 7, 2010 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. TheTruth

    It is totally bogus not to list the name of the product that the researchers proved contaminated, especially if this study was funded by grants or any public funds. Public safety is without question a greater concern than any negative publicity the company might suffer, earned or erroneous. Let the company prove its an anomaly and that their products are safe! This is one of the major problems we suffer from in this country, money and legal concerns get more pragmatic consideration than the irrevocable damage done to our health by these companies that care only about their profits and see people only as avenues to it.

    December 7, 2010 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. SilentBoy741

    At last, that explains why my butter is always so difficult to keep lit.

    December 7, 2010 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. John

    LOL People have it right. Any three letter government agency is a joke. The FDA is in the drug companies back pocket. By the time they declare a drug, that has been approved 6 months to a year earlier, is unsafe, the drug companies have made their millions off of it.

    December 7, 2010 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. liz

    So did this get recalled, or what?

    December 8, 2010 at 10:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. pat

    I just read somewhere that there is something they put on wrappers so the food doesn't leak thru like at mcdonald's. is this the same thing?

    December 8, 2010 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nolle

      Hey pat, those chemicals are something different. The chemicals found in the butter (PBDEs) are flame retardants that got in there accidentally, probably from some equipment in the factory. The chemicals in the food wrappers (PFCAs) are added on purpose to make the wrappers grease-proof. In both cases the chemicals weren't meant to get in the food itself but did anyway.

      December 9, 2010 at 04:57 | Report abuse |
  30. Joanne (CALIFORNIA)

    They are just testing a new way to combat acid indigestion. The butter will put out the flames of heart burn before it gets to the point of being bothersome. The don't test on animals so it's fine by me.! Just a thought.........

    August 18, 2012 at 02:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Joanne (CALIFORNIA)

    sorry for the typo. "They" don't test on animals......

    August 18, 2012 at 03:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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