Increased toxics in arctic bird eggs

Posted on 25 May 2006

A 20-year study has shown that eggs from arctic seabirds contain increasing quantities of brominated flame retardants.
A 20-year study has shown that eggs from arctic seabirds contain increasing quantities of brominated flame retardants. This is the first time that contaminants in seabird eggs from the European Arctic have been examined over such a long period of time.

The Norwegian study confirms that brominated flame retardants are found far from their original source.

The greatest increase during the past 20 years has been found in the flame retardants hexabromocylododecanes (HBCDD).

HBCDD is being used as a substitute for the now banned flame retardants polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). Many countries have banned or are phasing out PBDE under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

However, HBCDD also has the characteristics of a Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP). It increases in concentration as it moves up the food chain, travels in air and water from warmer to colder regions of the world, is a threat to human health and the environment, and persists in the environment for many years.

The eggs that were examined came from herring gulls, puffins, kittiwakes and glaucous gulls. In the past researchers have found flame retardants in various species of arctic animals and birds. This study shows that flame retardants are also transferred from bird to egg.

Håvard Holm, Director of the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SFT), said: “The study shows that flame retardants are not only found far from their sources, but also in constantly increasing concentrations. This creates cause for concern, and SFT wants stricter regulation of their use.”

The HBCDD levels in seabird eggs from the arctic region rose between 1983 and 2003, and some PBDEs, including the now-banned octa-BDEs, showed an increasing t rend throughout the ent i re period.

A recent Canadian-led study, which found high levels of the banned PBDE in polar bears, also found traces of HBCDD. Killer whales currently hold the dubious honour of being the most toxic animals in the arctic, as a recent study found alarmingly high levels of flame retardants and PCBs (see Arctic Bulletin 04.05).

Nigel Allan
nallan@wwf.no