More bad news about PBDEs—toxic chemicals used as commercial flame retardants—was reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and many other papers. According to a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology, both wild and farmed salmon are tainted with PBDEs. Used in many products, ranging from couch cushions to computers, PBDEs are chemical cousins of PCBs, and have been shown linked to learning and memory deficits in laboratory animals. Especially alarming was the fact that some chinook had levels as high or higher than farmed salmon (in general, though, farmed salmon were more contaminated).
How should consumers interpret the results—as a mandate to go on a salmon-free diet? Not necessarily. As health experts point out, salmon’s omega-3 fatty acids are linked to many health benefits. And, though other studies have shown that PBDEs are also acculumating rapidly in humans, we have little evidence about how they wind up in our bodies. Sightline Institute (formerly Northwest Environment Watch)’s study of PBDEs in the breastmilk of Puget Sound women, for example, indicated levels up to ten times higher than levels found in the salmon.
The study might be better interpreted as another telling example of the wide reach of industrial chemicals in general, and PBDEs in particular; and yet more evidence that we should consider implementing a “look before you leap” approach with new chemicals. Europe, not surprsingly, is pioneering this idea with its Reach proposal. Aren’t our continuing problems with lead (also reported on this morning) enough of a cautionary tale?
P.S: This September, Sightline is releasing a study that looks at how three persistent toxins—including PBDEs, PCBs, and dioxins—are accumulating in the bodies of northwesterners. And here’s a fact sheet about what northwesterners can do to help reduce the use of PBDEs and other persistent toxins.