Flame Retardants Found in Great Lakes, Supermarkets, Human Breast Milk


PBDEs or polybrominated diphenyl ethers — chemicals added to plastics in such products as computers, televisions, carpets, and furniture — are showing up in places from Great Lakes fish to food at the grocery store, and even breast milk according to a Wisconsin Sea Grant study. Because PBDEs are effective economical flame retardants they are used widely. In 1996, a Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene study detected PBDEs in the blood serum of people who ate Lake Michigan fish, prompting Wisconsin Sea Grant to sponsor a study from 2001 to 2004 on the extent of PBDE contamination in Lake Michigan. Researchers found that Lake Michigan’s top predator fish, coho and chinook salmon, contain PBDEs at concentrations exceeding 100 parts per billion (ppb). These are ”among the highest levels measured to date in open water fish anywhere in the world.”From Sea Grant:

Flame Retardants Found in Great Lakes, Supermarkets, Human Breast Milk

PBDEs or polybrominated diphenyl ethers — chemicals added to plastics in such products as computers, televisions, carpets, and furniture — are showing up in places from Great Lakes fish to food at the grocery store, and even breast milk according to a Wisconsin Sea Grant study. Because PBDEs are effective economical flame retardants they are used widely.

In 1996, a Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene study detected PBDEs in the blood serum of people who ate Lake Michigan fish, prompting Wisconsin Sea Grant to sponsor a study from 2001 to 2004 on the extent of PBDE contamination in Lake Michigan. Researchers William Sonzogni and Jon Manchester of the University of Wisconsin Water Science and Engineering Laboratory found that Lake Michigan’s top predator fish, coho and chinook salmon, contain PBDEs at concentrations exceeding 100 parts per billion (ppb). These are ”among the highest levels measured to date in open water fish anywhere in the world,” according to Manchester. Other studies have found PBDEs in predator fish in each of the other four Great Lakes. Sonzogni and Manchester also found PBDEs in several types of forage fish, such as alewife, sculpin, chubs, and smelt.

By studying sediment cores from the lake, the researchers determined that PBDE concentrations are increasing and that the chemicals’ presence coincides with records of flame retardant use. PBDEs appear to be primarily deposited from the atmosphere, their research suggests. If these trends continue, the researchers said, PBDEs will eventually overtake PCBs as the main contaminants in the sediment. Studies by other researchers have found PBDE contamination in the breast milk of U.S. women at levels up to 20 times higher than in European women. High levels were also detected in supermarket foods — especially meat and seafood. Studies in mice and rats suggest that chronic exposure to PBDEs may damage the liver and thyroid. Many European countries have banned PBDEs and are replacing them with safer alternatives, and California has passed legislation to phase out some forms by 2008.

CONTACT

William Sonzogni, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

University of Wisconsin (UW)

Phone: (608) 224-6200

E-mail: sonzogni@facstaff.wisc.edu

Jon Manchester, UW Associate Researcher

Phone: (608) 265-4182

E-mail: manchest@engr.wisc.edu

or

John Karl, Wisconsin Sea Grant Science Writer

Phone: (608) 263-8621

E-mail: jkarl@aqua.wisc.edu.


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