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GLIN==> High Levels of Chemical Flame Retardant Found in Lake Michigan Salmon

NEWS RELEASE - University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute

NOTE: The research article discussed here was released today on the Web to
subscribers of the online journals of the American Chemical Society, which
includes most university libraries (see appended Web references).  It is
scheduled to be published in Environmental Science and Technology in the
spring of 2001.


MADISON, Wis. (Feb. 14, 2001) - University of Wisconsin scientists have
found high levels of a common chemical flame retardant in Lake Michigan
salmon, according to a report being published by the science journal
Environmental Science and Technology.  

"The concentrations are among the highest reported in the world for salmon
in open waters," said Jon Manchester, co-author of the report and a
researcher in the UW-Madison Water Chemistry Program.   The study was funded
by the UW Sea Grant Institute and the American Chemical Society.

All 21 of the salmon examined for the study contained chemical compounds
called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or  PBDEs, which are chemically
similar to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and dioxins.  Like PCBs, PBDEs
resist breaking down in the environment and accumulate in animal tissues.
Their health risks to humans and wildlife have not been fully assessed,
although several studies indicate the risks may be similar to those of PCBs.

The Lake Michigan salmon, collected in 1996, had an average PBDE
concentration of 80 parts per billion.  While information on world-wide
levels of PBDEs is relatively scant, the levels in Lake Michigan salmon are
about six times higher than the levels reported in 1999 for salmon from the
Baltic Sea, the world's most-studied area for PBDEs, Manchester said. 
The Wisconsin scientists were prompted to look for PBDEs in Lake Michigan
salmon by a 1996 report by the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene stating
that blood samples from people who ate Lake Michigan fish contained PBDEs.

The concentrations of PBDEs in the salmon were, on average, about 6 percent
as high as the concentrations of PCBs.

"It's important to note that our study did not address how toxic those
amounts of PBDEs might be to the salmon," Manchester said.  "Those amounts
could be more or less toxic than the much higher levels of PCBs we found."

The salmon were taken from the Kewaunee River and from Strawberry Creek in
Door County, Wis. Results of the study suggest that PBDEs probably have been
spread throughout the lake for at least the lifetime of the salmon, or eight
to ten years, Manchester said.

This preliminary study did not address the concentrations of PBDEs in the
lake's water or sediments, Manchester said.  Studies of Baltic Sea sediments
indicate PBDE concentrations began to accumulate only about 20 years ago,
but they are accumulating at a much more rapid rate than PCBs ever did, he

Starting in March, UW Sea Grant will support a three-year study to determine
where the PBDEs in Lake Michigan come from, whether the concentrations are
increasing, and how many are accumulating in the lake's plankton and fish.
Manchester will participate in the study with William Sonzogni, professor of
environmental chemistry at UW-Madison and director of the Environmental
Health Division of the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene.

Sonzogni and Karlis Valters, an environmental chemistry researcher at
Stockholm University, co-authored the Environmental Science and Technology
report with Manchester.

PBDEs and other brominated compounds are among the most effective and
economical flame retardants available, especially for plastics.  As of the
mid-1990s, brominated compounds accounted for a quarter of the 600,000 tons
of all flame retardant compounds produced worldwide each year, which
includes 50,000 tons of PBDEs.  
PBDEs are widely used as flame retardants in plastics for electronic circuit
boards and housings for personal computers and television sets.  PBDEs are
also used as flame retardants in clothing and other textiles, home
appliances and business machines, upholstered furniture, carpets and wall
coverings, and automobiles.  It is believed that PBDEs enter the environment
via gradual emission from these products, but the process is not fully

Like PCBs, PBDEs have spread throughout the global environment.  Studies in
Scandinavia, Europe, Canada, and Japan have found PBDEs in sediments, meat,
fish, sperm whale blubber, office air, and human blood, particularly among
workers in electronics recycling plants. A recent Swedish study found a
50-fold increase in PBDEs in women's breast milk during 1972-97.

Relatively few studies of PBDEs in the environment have been conducted in
the United States, particularly in the Great Lakes region, Manchester said.

Compared with PCBs, little is known about the possible health effects of
PBDE exposure.  Early studies suggest that human health effects of long-term
exposure may include cancer, liver damage, and thyroid gland dysfunction.
Recent research on young mice showed an adverse affect on neurodevelopment,
learning, memory, 
and behavior.  Some brominated flame retardants may have hormone-mimicking
properties that could cause reproductive problems in wildlife.

"The discovery of yet another chemical contaminant in these salmon is
another reason to observe the U.S.-Canadian International Joint Commission's
recent recommendation that children and women of child-bearing age should
avoid eating Great Lakes sport fish," said UW Sea Grant Director Anders W.
Andren, a member of the IJC's Science Advisory Board.

Like PCBs, PBDEs are a group of related compounds, and some forms are more
prevalent and bioavailable than others.  The tetra- and penta-brominated
diphenyl ethers used in polyurethane, for example, have high
bioconcentration rates, while the no significant bioaccumulation has been
found for the octa- and deca-BDEs often used in electronics.

The Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate in 1999 called for a ban on all
PBDEs, and the European Union has proposed stringent regulations on the
disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment.  According to the
Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, preliminary EU risk assessments
indicate that octa-BDE and deca-BDE, the two most commonly used PBDEs, pose
no risk to the public.  

# # # #

Jon Manchester, associate researcher, UW-Madison Water Chemistry Program,
JONMAN@MACC.WISC.EDU, (608) 265-4182
William Sonzogni, professor, UW-Madison Department of Environmental
Chemistry & Technology, and director of Environmental Health Division,
Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, SONZOGNI@FACSTAFF.WISC.EDU, (608)
Stephen Wittman, communications director, UW Sea Grant Institute,


"Comparison of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) and Polychlorinated
Biphenyls (PCBs) in Lake Michigan Salmonids," by Jon B. Manchester-Neesvig,
Karlis Valters, and William C. Sonzogni, Environmental Science and
Technology (in press)

Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate Report on Phasing Out PBDEs (PDF
file) http://www.kemi.se/aktuellt/pressmedd/1999/flam_e.pdf

"An Introduction to Brominated Flame Retardants," (PDF file) by the Bromine
Science & Environmental Forum

 "The PBDEs: An Emerging Environmental Challenge and Another Reason for
Breast-Milk Monitoring Programs," commentary from Environmental Health
Perspectives (vol. 108, no. 5, May 2000)

"Toxicological Risks of Selected Flame-Retardant Chemicals," Subcommittee on
Flame Retardant Chemicals, Committee on Toxicology, Board of Environmental
Studies and Toxicology, Commission on Life Sciences, National Research
Council (National Academy Press, 2000)

European Brominated Flame Retardants Industry Panel (EBFRIP)

posted by Stephen Wittman
Assistant Director for Communications
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute

PHONE  (608) 263-5371
EMAIL  swittman@seagrant.wisc.edu
FAX  (608) 262-0591
WEB  www.seagrant.wisc.edu
Created in 1966, Sea Grant is a national network of 30 university-based
programs of research, outreach, and education dedicated to the protection
and sustainable use of the United States' coastal, ocean, and Great Lakes
resources.  The National Sea Grant Network is a partnership of participating
coastal states, private industry, and the National Sea Grant College
Program, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of

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