Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers


RC Hale, MJ La Guardia, EP Harvey, MO Gaylor, T Matteson Mainor and WH Duff. 2001. Flame retardants: Persistent pollutants in land-applied sludges. Nature 412: 140 - 141

quick background on PBDEs
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Hale et al. report high concentrations of brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs) in sewage sludge being applied as fertilizer to US farmland. They also report high levels of BDEs in fish in Virginia.

This family of compounds is widely used as a flame retardant in various industrial and consumer products. According to Hale et al., the most toxic BDEs are molecules containing 4-6 bromine atoms. Those with more than one bromine are "polybrominated," or PBDEs. These forms of BDEs are found increasingly in people and wildlife around the world. In general, they are highly persistent and bioaccumulative. Recent toxicological studies demonstrate that some of them are powerful hormone disruptors, particularly capable of disrupting thyroid hormone.

Levels of BDEs found in sewage sludge ranged from 1,100-2,290 micrograms per kg dry weight. How they enter sewage sludge is not clear. According to Hale et al., one potential source is discarded polyurethane foam: "We found that the surface of foam became brittle and sloughed off after 4 weeks of exposure to ambient summer conditions." This would be consistent with the mix of different types of BDE found in sewage sludge, as the mixture resembles that found in polyurethane foam.

PBDEs were found in 87% of fish sampled in Virginia waters, including one carp containing 47,900 micrograms per kg, an extraordinarily high contamination level.

The European Commission recommended in March 2001 that penta-BDE's (with 5 bromine atoms) be phased out of use.




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