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

San Jose Mercury News
11 July 2003

Bay fish show rising levels of fire retardant, study says
By Jamie Francisco

Read the study by Environmental Working Group

Fish reeled in from Bay Area waters displayed alarming levels of a toxic flame retardant chemical used in items ranging from carpets to cushions to computers, according to a new study.

Since 1997, levels of toxic PBDEs have doubled in halibut and tripled in striped bass -- the two fish favored by Bay Area anglers -- according to the study, released this week by the non-profit Environmental Working Group.

Researchers also have discovered rising levels of the chemical -- polybrominated diphenyl ether -- in the breast tissue, breast milk and blood of Bay Area women.

Scientists believe that PBDEs can cause thyroid problems and may harm brain developments in children.

The study may bolster the ongoing effort by Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, D-Oakland, who has written a bill designed to ban two types of PBDE by 2008.

The bill, already approved by the Assembly, is scheduled to go before the Senate next week. The two PBDEs, penta and octa, have been banned by the European Union, but no regulations for these chemicals exist in the United States.

``If we continue to do this, our children won't have a chance to develop fully and do well in school,'' Chan said.

Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian, R-Turlock, however, voted against the bill for the same reason Chan proposed it -- to protect children.

Aghazarian and other supporters of PBDEs warn that banning it may mean prohibiting a chemical that has been highly effective in preventing fires. While health concerns must be taken into account, PBDE provides protection against fires.

``It saves lives,'' Aghazarian said. ``It's the best one known to man. We can't jeopardize the safety and health for our children.''

The Environmental Protection Agency has not set safety level standards for PBDEs. The level found in halibut tissue in the study was 12.6 parts per billion, 16.6 in striped bass. Scientific studies on laboratory rats showed newborn mice displayed brain damage at concentrations of four parts per billion in brain tissue, according to the report. However, it's not known what level would be harmful to humans.

Sonya Lunder, lead author of the report, said its purpose was to urge furniture and electronics manufacturers to create other products that would eliminate the need for PBDEs.

``How can we be against preventing fires? We're not,'' Lunder said. ``But we don't have to poison the bay or our bodies for fire safety.''

The report presented data collected from September to November 2002. Last fall, researchers collected 22 fish from fishermen on private and charter boats around South San Francisco and San Pablo Bay. Researchers also gathered leopard shark, jacksmelt, surfperch and white croaker fish, but not enough for a valid study.

Fish were also gathered from fishermen at public piers around the Bay Area. Results were analyzed by the state Department of Toxic Substance Control's Hazardous Materials Lab in Berkeley.

``It's a growing concern not only because it's building up in the fish, but because it's building up in the rest of the planet,'' said Ted Smith, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.






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