[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]
E-M:/ Dangerous flame retardants found in falcons
- Subject: E-M:/ Dangerous flame retardants found in falcons
- From: Mary Beth Doyle <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Thu, 8 Jan 2004 11:44:06 -0500
- Delivered-To: email@example.com
- Delivered-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- List-Name: Enviro-Mich
- Reply-To: Mary Beth Doyle <email@example.com>
Title: Dangerous flame retardants found in
retardants are being called the "next PCBs." Studies have
found them rapidly building up in Great Lakes fish, and in women's
breast milk. But it was thought the most commonly used type of
brominated flame retardant, deca-BDE, could not to build up in
wildlife. This recently released study finds high levels of deca-BDE
in Peregrine falcons.
may face new environmental threat
Less than five years
after being removed from the endangered species list, peregrine
falcons could be facing a new threat. A Swedish study found that eggs
of peregrine falcons in that country contain high levels of a popular
flame retardant, deca-BDE, which scientists have long thought could
not get into wildlife. Falcons in North America are likely to face the
same threat, the researchers say.
The birds' eggs contained some of the highest levels of BDEs
(brominated diphenyl ethers) ever found in any kind of wildlife, and
this was the first time that the deca formulation of BDE has been
found in a living organism. The findings add to mounting concern among
some scientists that deca-BDE - the world's most widely used
brominated flame-retardant - is not as harmless as previously
The report, which examined three peregrine falcon populations in
Sweden - two in the wild and one in captivity - appears in the
current edition (Jan. 1) of Environmental Science &
Technology , a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical
Society, the world's largest scientific society.
Aerial predators that can power-dive on their prey at speeds up to 200
mph, peregrine falcons approached the brink of extinction after World
War II. Their decline was blamed mostly on organochlorine pesticides
like DDT, which were linked to thin-shelled eggs that broke during
While BDEs do not produce the eggshell thinning associated with DDT,
there has been some evidence of neurobehavioral problems from exposure
to the chemicals in laboratory animals, a potential concern for a bird
that relies on surprising its prey and diving on it. Two BDE forms -
the penta and octa versions - will be banned in member states of the
European Union beginning later this year, and the main U.S.
manufacturer of the products recently announced its plans to phase out
production of penta- and octa-BDEs as part of a voluntary agreement
with the U.S. EPA.
"We found high concentrations of all the different BDEs in both
wild populations," says Cynthia de Wit, Ph.D., an associate
professor at Stockholm University's Institute of Applied Environmental
Research and lead author of the study. "The total concentrations
of all the BDEs in the wild falcons are some of the highest seen in
any wildlife globally."
Finding the deca form of BDE in the falcons was a surprise to the
researchers since that formulation has long been considered too big a
molecule to cross cell membranes and be taken up by wildlife or
humans. "This is the first time anyone has found deca in
wildlife," de Wit says.
"The fact that we have found [deca] in falcon eggs means that it
is in their food, is taken up from the gut and is transferred to the
eggs," de Wit says. "Thus, deca seems to cross cell
membranes without too much trouble."
The new findings add to growing concern that the deca molecule might
not be as harmless as previously believed, de Wit says.
Researchers from the University of Maryland, also reporting in the
current issue of Environmental Science & Technology ,
recently found evidence that fish exposed to deca can metabolize it
into the lighter and more harmful penta and octa forms.
The European Union recently conducted an environmental risk assessment
on deca. In early December 2003 it concluded that deca poses an
acceptably low risk and will not be banned.
Many scientists, however, advocate a more cautious approach. "We
discovered the DDT problem because bird populations crashed," de
Wit says. "They still haven't completely recovered from DDT, so
new effects could be masked. Or the BDE concentrations haven't gotten
high enough yet to cause a recognizable effect."
"The least that should be done is to reduce exposure, especially
for humans," de Wit says. "Deca does not seem to be a very
stable molecule and I am concerned that the release of huge amounts of
deca over many years will lead to a buildup in the environment that
will then slowly degrade to BDEs that are much more
There is a high probability that peregrine falcons in North America
could face a similar risk from deca exposure, de Wit notes.
"According to statistics from 1999, 24,300 tons of deca were used
in the Americas, compared to only 7,500 tons in Europe," de Wit
The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation provided funding for this
- Jason Gorss
Mary Beth Doyle, MPH
Environmental Health Project
117 N. Division
Ann Arbor MI 48104
734-663-2400 ext 108