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EST A Pages (Columbia River) .pdf

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Environmental ▼News
PBDEs poised to overtake PCBs in popular fish
ountain whitefish from the
mals, Ikonomou says. The levels are
eastern British Columbia where
Columbia River in Canada’s
on a par with the highest levels
they conducted their studies. After
Pacific Northwest are taking
recorded to date in Virginia carp by
ruling out obvious sources like atup polybrominated diphenyl ether
Rob Hale of the Virginia Institute of
mospheric deposition and automo(PBDE) compounds more rapidly
Marine Science (Environ. Sci.
tive wrecking yards, Ikonomou
than any other organism yet tested,
Technol. 2001, 35, 4585–4591). They
determined that septic fields and
according to Michael Ikonomou of
are not directly comparable, howevdomestic sewage were the most
Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a gover, because Ikonomou determined
likely source of the PBDEs in the
ernmental agency. In research pubthe concentration of contaminants
fish—another surprise.
lished in this issue of ES&T (p 2847–
as a function of the wet weight of
Sediments in the area inhabited
2854), a team led by Ikonomou rethe tested samples, while Hale
by the whitefish have ratios of orports that the popular food fish’s levmade measurements on a lipid
ganic carbon to organic nitrogen
els of the persistent organic pollutant
basis. Ikonomou says his team did
that suggest they were enriched by
are doubling every 1.6 years. At this
not lipid-normalize the data bewastewater, and it is well-known
rate, whitefish will become the first
cause they did not have reliable
that PBDEs come from domestic
known organism in the world with a
lipid data for their oldest samples.
sewage, Ikonomou says. Because the
higher body burden of PBDEs
Columbia River is so extensively
than polychlorinated biphenyls
dammed, the water in different
(PCBs) this year.
segments of the river provides a
The impact of these comfairly unambiguous signature of
pounds on the whitefish—and
the contaminants in it, he adds.
the people who consume it,
“It surprises me that [the levsome of whom are taking up
els Ikonomou found] are relatvery high levels of the PBDEs
ed to household septic systems
(Environ. Sci. Technol. 2003, 37,
unless they were really mal164A–165A)—is as yet unclear.
functioning, because the stuff
The chemicals are suspected to
is so hydrophobic that I would
Mountain whitefish appear to be taking up polyimpact thyroid and endocrine
think that it would get taken
brominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) more rapidly
system functioning, and rodent
out pretty readily before it
than any other studied organism, including humans
studies show that they may im- and ringed seals from the Canadian Arctic. The con- reached the surface water,”
pair neurological function, says centrations measured in whitefish mirror the levels
says Hale, who has conducted
Linda Birnbaum, director of
many of the studies linking
of PBDEs being produced, which are on the rise.
the Experimental Toxicology
sewage and PBDEs.
Division of the U.S. EPA’s National
Ikonomou did not expect to find
“We have seen information to
Health and Environmental Effects
such high PBDE levels because the
suggest that low levels do get out of
Research Laboratory.
area where his studies were consewage treatment plants—at subIkonomou and his fellow reducted is quite pristine, he says.
parts-per-billion levels—but the
searchers at Fisheries and Oceans
“Originally, we thought that we had
volumes of sewage treatment plants
Canada and the University of
contaminated the samples someare so large that that may actually
Victoria in British Columbia underhow,” Ikonomou admits. So when
be a reasonable source,” Hale says.
took the study of whitefish, which
the researchers returned to collect
Another notable aspect of
are considered a sentinel species
more samples in 2000, they elimiIkonomou’s latest findings is that the
for the Columbia River, because of
nated all possible sources of contawhitefishes’ levels of the various
the paucity of studies examining
mination. And the fish they caught
brominated flame retardant comhow PBDE levels have changed over
that year contained the highest levpounds, or congeners, closely mirthe 20 years the chemicals have
els they had seen to date.
rors the patterns in the mixtures
been used extensively as flame reThe Canadian researchers consold commercially. The Penta mix,
tardants in North America.
ducted an exhaustive analysis to
which is used extensively in polyThe PBDE levels in the whitefish
determine how PBDEs were enterurethane foam in the United States
were 15,000 times higher than the
ing the mountainous area near the
and contains the less-brominated
levels found in Arctic marine mamColumbia River’s source in southcompounds that many observers



© 2003 American Chemical Society

suspect are most likely to be toxic,
contains more BDE-99 than BDE-47,
and this is what is found in whitefish. The industry has previously
called some findings into question
because other organisms have
higher body burdens of BDE-47,
Ikonomou says. The high levels of
BDE-99 indicate that the fish must
be near a source, Hale adds.
The industry is quite concerned

about these findings, says Peter
O’Toole, the U.S. director of the
Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF). He stresses that
the manufacturers of the Penta
products—and all brominated
flame retardants—have undertaken
a “significant new product stewardship program to reduce pathways
for the product to get into the environment.” —KELLYN S. BETTS

“No data, no market” for chemicals in EU
A draft proposal overhauling chemical regulation in the European
Union (EU) goes far beyond requirements elsewhere, shifting the
burden from government to industry to prove that individual chemicals can be used safely before they
are marketed. Additionally, the legislation, which was released in May
by the European Commission (EC)
for public comment, eliminates the
distinction between new and socalled “existing” chemicals that
were first marketed before 1981 and
therefore have not been subject to
the same testing requirements as

newer chemicals in the EU or elsewhere. These existing chemicals
make up more than 99% of total
substance volume currently on the
market, according to EC estimates.
The EC proposes a new chemicals agency to manage the Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization
of Chemicals system, known as
REACH. Under the REACH framework, which is based on the precautionary principle, companies will be
required to register all substances
that they produce or import in volumes of one or more metric tons
annually. Additionally, they must

News Briefs
Taking stock of chemical
North America’s large industrial facilities reduced their releases and off-site
transfers of some 200 hazardous
chemicals by 6% from 1999 to 2000,
according to an April report from the
Commission for Environmental
Cooperation (CEC), an organization created under the
North American Free Trade
Agreement. That’s the good
news. The bad news is that
CEC’s analysis, based on pollutant release and transfer registry databases
from Canada and the United States,
show that releases and transfers of
smaller facilities shot up 32% in the
same period. The smaller facilities,
each emitting less than 100 tons a
year, are under less pressure to reduce their use of hazardous chemicals
than the larger, better-known industrial
plants, according to CEC’s Acting
Executive Director Victor Shantora. To
download a copy of the report Taking
Stock, go to www.cec.org.

Protecting public drinking

Figure Not Available
for Use on the Web

The implementation of the proposed REACH framework initially targets high-production
volume chemicals (1000 metric tons [t] or more per year) and chemicals that are carcinogenic, mutagenic, and toxic to reproduction (CMR); then substances with production volumes of 100–1000 t; and finally products with volumes as low as 1 t. The REACH
program also sets aside time for preregistration (P) and consortia building (CB).

Drinking water utilities are becoming
much more security conscious, according to a report released in May by
the nonprofit American Water Works
Association. The report lists accomplishments resulting from U.S. EPA’s
partnership with the water utilities,
which include “hardening” facilities
with more locks, fences, and guards;
educating the public on reporting suspicious activity near sites; and developing the Water Information Sharing
and Analysis System, which helps
member utilities identify threats, access databases, and directly communicate with other utilities. Drinking
Water Security in America After 9/11
is available at www.awwa.org.

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