News Brief

"Safe" Flame Retardants Show Bioaccumulation Potential

Researchers at Canada’s National Wildlife Research Centre and multiple Canadian universities have detected what may be traces of second-generation brominated flame retardants in gulls’ eggs from colonies across the Great Lakes. The substances were found in higher levels in an industrial area.

Health hazards of certain polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have attracted enough scrutiny in the last decade that the fire-retardant industry has largely phased out three chemicals within the PBDE family—penta-, octa-, and deca-BDA—and replaced them with other brominated substances, such as tetradecabromodiphenoxy benzene. Currently marketed as Saytex 120, this chemical was thought to be safer than the penta-, octa-, or deca-BDAs because it contains 14 bromine atoms, so it is both heavy and involatile, giving it less potential for bioaccumulation.

 

Newer-generation flame retardants were supposed to be safer, but they appear to be leaving traces in aquatic wildlife.

Photo: John Haslam
Researchers hypothesize that when the flame retardant hits wastewater streams, either microbial degradation or a sun-catalyzed reaction causes it to lose bromine atoms, increasing its bioaccumulation potential and potential subsequent health hazards.

 

 

 

 

Published November 29, 2011

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