NOAA Finds Flame Retardants Widespread in U.S. Coastal Ecosystems

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released the first-ever nationwide report this morning on the level of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) found in U.S. coastal areas and the Great Lakes. The report contradicts earlier surveys that suggested PBDEs, chemicals commonly used as flame retardants in commercial goods since the 1970s but in large part discontinued because of health concerns, were found in only a few U.S. sites.

The health effects associated with PBDEs include impaired liver and thyroid function and neurobehavioral development.

The 96-page report's executive summary says this: "Given the present level of PBDE-containing consumer products in use today (e.g., furniture and electronics), waste disposal policy must mitigate the release of PBDEs to the environment. Determining and implementing best practices could have a substantial and positive impact on future contamination levels along U.S. shoreline."

PBDEs are present in all U.S. coastal waters and the Great Lakes, with elevated levels near urban and industrial centers, according to the report, which uses data from NOAA's Mussel Watch Program. The program has monitored coastal water contaminants for 24 years. The highest concentrations in sediments and in shellfish were found in New York's Hudson Raritan Estuary. Individual sites with the highest PBDE measurements were found in shellfish taken from Anaheim Bay, California and four sites in the Hudson Raritan Estuary.

"This is a wake-up call for Americans concerned about the health of our coastal waters and their personal health," said John H. Dunnigan, NOAA assistant administrator of the National Ocean Service. "Scientific evidence strongly documents that these contaminants impact the food web, and action is needed to reduce the threats posed to aquatic resources and human health."

PBDEs have been used in building materials, electronics, furnishings, motor vehicles, plastics, polyurethane foams, and textiles. Their production is banned in Europe and Asia, and some production has been voluntarily halted in the United States, but one form is still produced here, according to the report.

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