Ecosystem Threats,  Featured,  Global Threats,  Science,  Sustainability,  Toxic Exposure

Flame Retardants in Honey?

By Roberta Attanasio

When the bees feast on flowers, we enjoy honey, the increasingly popular nature’s sweetener and bearer of many health benefits. The “foodie” boom has generated not only appreciation for the aroma, texture and flavor profiles of different types of honey, but also demand for cosmetics and fragrances that contain it.

Not everything about honey is as good as it seems, though – there are things like frauds and unexpected chemicals. Pesticides are a known problem for bees and honey, but now there is something else here – flame retardants. These toxic chemicals are widespread throughout the globe and contaminate the food chain, including human milk, as they are present in many products and are released in both indoor and outdoor environments. Some flame retardants cause reproductive and developmental defects as well as cancer, and some are also endocrine disruptors.

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Photo Credit: Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture.


Very recently, researchers from Spain and Brazil studied 35 commercial honey samples collected in Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Morocco  in the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 and found that honey samples from Slovenia, Spain and Portugal contained mostly some specific types of fire retardants, whereas Brazilian and Moroccan honey samples contained mostly other types of these chemicals. The results of their study, entitled “Levels of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in honey samples from different geographic regions” (February 15, 2014), are published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

This is not the first instance flame retardants have been identified in honey. A study published in 2010 analyzed 50 honey samples from different countries and regions and found different types of flame retardants in both developed and developing countries, and  in higher amounts when compared to those found in the most recent study.

Is honey a significant source of exposure to flame retardants for people that consume it? At this time, it is not clear.

Controversy keeps surrounding these toxic chemicals. In November, independent testing commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and 15 other organizations found harmful flame retardants in children’s chairs, couches and other kids’ furniture purchased throughout the U.S. and Canada.

However, there are good news. According to the Chicago Tribune (November 22, 2013) “For decades, U.S. manufacturers have filled upholstered furniture with pounds of toxic chemicals to comply with a flammability standard set by a single state, California. The obscure rule, known as Technical Bulletin 117, brought flame retardants into homes across the country. American babies came to be born with the highest recorded average concentrations of the chemicals among any infants in the world. But on Thursday, California threw out the 38-year-old rule and approved a new one that furniture manufacturers can meet without using flame retardants.”

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times Op-Ed columnist, tells us interesting stories about these toxic chemicals. You can read historical perspectives here, and more recent developments here.

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