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David Bradley ISSUE #36
February 2004

Fly away

Peregrine falcons could soon be back on the endangered list not five years after being removed, according to Swedish researchers who have found that the bird's eggs contain high levels of the most widely used flame retardant, deca-BDE. Falcons elsewhere in the world are likely to face the same threat despite earlier assumptions that deca-BDE would not reach wildlife.

Cynthia de Wit of Stockholm University's Institute of Applied Environmental Research and her colleagues report in the January 1 issue of Environmental Science & Technology that the falcon's eggs of two wild and one captive falcon populations contained some of the highest levels of BDEs (brominated diphenyl ethers) ever found in any kind of wildlife. This is the first time deca-BDE has been found in a living thing. "We found high concentrations of all the different BDEs in both wild populations," says de Wit, "The total concentrations of all the BDEs in the wild falcons are some of the highest seen in any wildlife globally."
??? Peregrine falcon - endangered once more (David Bradley / imagingstorm.co.uk)
Peregrine falcon - endangered once more

Could flame retardants lead to the burn out of the Peregrine falcon (David Bradley / imagingstorm.co.uk)
Could flame retardants lead to the burn out of the Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcons became almost extinct after World War II because of the advent of organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT, and their impact on thinning egg shells. BDEs do not cause this problem, but there is evidence that neurobehavioral problems have been seen in animals exposed to these chemicals. The penta and octa versions of the compounds will be banned in the European Union later in 2004 although deca-BDE was not blacklisted. The major US manufacturer plans to phase out production of these products as part of a voluntary agreement with the US EPA.

Researchers from the University of Maryland revealed evidence in the same issue that fish exposed to deca-BDE can metabolize it into the lighter and more harmful penta and octa forms.

Environ. Sci. Tech., 2004, 38, 93-96; http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es034614q