How Big a Risk Do PBDEs Pose for People?
Lactating mothers could be thanking Becky Dunn in the near future for her research on PBDE's in breast milk. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are a chemical flame retardant with bioaccumulative properties. Their presence in the natural environment is ubiquitous, says Dunn, an instructor in Health Science, and they are beginning to show up in humans.
Dunn's research will look at the body burdens of PBDEs, specifically in breast milk of lactating women. The rationale behind using breast milk as a sampling method is that PBDEs like to associate with fat, and since breast milk is high in fat, it is a simple, non-invasive method to capture one's body burden. The intent of the research is not to scare mothers away from nursing their infants, as it is not clear what different levels indicate in terms of health status. But, Dunn says, there is cause for concern for rising levels of PBDEs as they are "endocrine disruptors" and have the potential for interfering with hormonal pathways in the body.
Dunn and her doctorate advisor are working on a collaborative biomonitoring project with the N.H. Public Health Laboratory. While still in the designing stages, Dunn will be taking next year off to focus on her research. Beginning in the summer of 2005, she will recruit lactating mothers to participate in the study. A University of New Hampshire undergraduate student will help develop an educational tool, which will assist with the recruiting process.
"I have always been interested in maternal and child health," she says, "and this is an excellent way to combine my interest with the area of environmental public health."
- Miranda Leveille, College Relations Office intern