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This study reveals unregulated toxic chemicals are building up in people. Testing of breast milk finds unregulated flame retardants for the first time, while banned substances are decreasing.

Breast milk is considered the best food for babies. But research has found that harmful chemicals from industry and consumer products can contaminate breast milk, exposing babies at a vulnerable life stage. Now, this study authored by Toxic-Free Future, Emory University, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute has found toxic flame retardants in the breast milk of U.S. moms. Companies continue to use hormone-disrupting flame retardants in products like televisions despite research showing these chemicals build up in people. But some states and retailers are taking action to move to safer solutions.


Infographic for BFRs in breast milk study

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  1. I.Fact Sheet


From the Experts

Erika Schreder, Science Director, Toxic-Free Future

“Our results show that when we prohibit the use of persistent toxic chemicals like PBDEs, we make breast milk safer for babies. But it’s disturbing to find that the replacement chemicals are now building up in breast milk. I hope we can learn our lesson this time and put policies in place that address the entire class and make sure chemicals used in products are known to be safe.”

Erika Schreder
Study co-author and science director with Toxic-Free Future

Amina Salamova, Assistant Professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health

“It’s concerning to find flame retardants in breast milk that can disrupt hormones and affect children’s brain development. This study is the first one to find harmful flame retardants called bromophenols in breast milk in the U.S. They’ve already been found to affect key thyroid hormones during fetal development, and now we know that infants are exposed through breast milk.”

Dr. Amina Salamova
Assistant Professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health

Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute

“While we know that flame retardant chemicals may be harmful, it is important to remember that breast milk provides significant benefits to newborn and child health. Breast milk is still best for newborns.”

Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana
Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute

State Representative Beth Doglio (D-WA)

“Our communities deserve safe products that don’t cause cancer or pollute our baby’s first food. This is why I’m especially proud that Washington is leading the nation with its prevention-focused law regulating toxic chemicals in products. Banning toxic chemicals like flame retardants in TVs will result in more protections for people and less harm to our health.”

Rep. Beth Doglio
Washington Representative, 22nd Legislative District

Mike Schade, Director of Mind the Store, Toxic-Free Future

“Retailers have the power to drive these unnecessary toxic chemicals out of product. Best Buy has already shown leadership by restricting these chemicals in their own brand televisions. But more action is needed to prevent these plastic chemicals from contaminating breast milk and impacting babies. That’s why today we are launching a new national petition calling on Best Buy to take the next steps and eliminate these dangerous chemicals from other products it sells and ensure the substitutes are truly safe.”

Mike Schade
Director of Mind the Store, Toxic-Free Future

Clare Hobby, Director Purchaser Engagement, Global for TCO Certified

“Hazards associated with several kinds of flame retardants are well known. What’s critical is to not only regulate their use, but to actually identify substances that are tested and verified as safer for human health and the environment. It’s vital that we drive a market shift toward safer options as the mainstream choice.”

Clare Hobby
Director, Purchaser Engagement, Global for TCO Certified

Additional breast milk studies by Toxic-Free Future

By analyzing breast milk samples from 50 new mothers, Toxic-Free Future original research has found PFAS, quats, and toxic flame retardants in breast milk.

PFAS in breast milk (2021)

This 2021 study, the first since 2004 to analyze PFAS in breast milk from mothers in the United States, found that 50 out of 50 women tested positive for PFAS, with levels ranging from 52 parts per trillion (ppt) to more than 500 ppt. More.

PFAS in Breast milk study

Organophosphate plasticizers and flame retardants in breast milk (2021)

According to this 2021 peer-reviewed study by Toxic-Free Future and partners, “This is the first study to simultaneously determine OPEs and their metabolites in breast milk, and our findings indicate that breastfeeding is a significant source of OPE exposure for infants… Organophosphate esters (OPEs) are among the synthetic chemicals found in the highest concentrations in the indoor environment due to their use as flame retardants and plasticizers.” More.

OPEs in breast milk study

Quats in breast milk (2022)

A first-of-its-kind 2022 study by Toxic-Free Future, Indiana University, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute shows that quats—the active chemicals in many household disinfectant cleaners—are frequently found in breast milk. More.