In studies with rats, Agricultural Research Service scientists have set the stage for more in-depth research on how livestock animals may handle chemical pollutants ingested from the environment.

Of particular interest is the animals' absorption, breakdown (metabolism), tissue retention and excretion of substances known as “polybrominated diphenyl ethers” (PBDEs), which are flame retardants used in textiles, electronics, plastics and other materials.

PBDEs have been credited with helping prevent fire-related injuries and property damage. But some PBDEs face scrutiny because of their ability to persist in the environment and their potential to accumulate in living organisms, including humans, according to ARS scientists Heldur Hakk, Janice Huwe and Gerald Larsen in Fargo, N.D.

The scientists' studies at the ARS Biosciences Research Laboratory in Fargo aim to shed light on whether PBDEs can be passed from livestock into the food supply. In one approach, the Fargo team fed rats peanut oil containing one of three commercial formulations of PBDEs. The formulation levels used were typical of those found in the environment and included various types of PBDEs.

The group is planning similar studies in chickens. Hakk said this research, which will help weigh the benefits of PBDEs' continued use against potential human health issues.