Catch of the Day- Brominated Flame Retardants in the Food Web of Lake Erie
Chemical flame retardants such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are used in numerous polymer-based commercial and household products to increase flame resistance. With 3,000,000 fires reported annually, the United States is the world’s largest consumer of PBDEs. This comes at an environmental cost. Since PBDEs are not chemically bonded to the products, leaching from the materials occurs over time. Release of PBDEs into the environment is increasing and poses a threat to surrounding habitats causing deleterious effects on the endocrine system, thyroid function, and early neurodevelopment in fish and humans. For comprehensive knowledge on the transport of PBDEs in aquatic food webs it is imperative to develop selective and sensitive analytical techniques for accurate detection in fish species. This study measured the amounts of PBDEs in fish from eastern Lake Erie, determining PBDE loads at different levels of the food-web. Lake Erie, the smallest of the Great Lakes in volume, endures the largest impacts from urbanization, agriculture, and industry. PBDE concentrations were examined in sport fish (i.e. steelhead and walleye) and forage fish (i.e. emerald shiner and smelt). Contaminants were detected in all fish samples, with the highest total PBDEs found in walleye at 31.95 nanograms/gram sample, the lowest in round goby at 2.1 nanograms/gram sample. Total PBDE concentrations increase from the bottom of the food web to the top predators. The results collected will provide baseline data for establishing consumption advisories, discussion on flame retardants versus a healthy environment, and better management of the ecological health of the lake.