"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.
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