Toxic swordfish found in the Mediterranean

Posted on 29 August 2006

Despite an EU ban on most types of the persistent and bio-accumulative flame retardant chemical PBDE, traces of these chemicals, have been found in Mediterranean swordfish off the Italian coast.

Brussels, Belgium – Despite an EU ban on most types of the persistent and bio-accumulative flame retardant chemical PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether), traces of these chemicals — previously used in computers, TVs and carpets — have been found in Mediterranean swordfish off the Italian coast.

In a new WWF study carried out together with the University of Siena's Department of Environmental Sciences — Chemical Contamination in the Mediterranean: the case of swordfish — 17 swordfish samples from the Italian coast were tested for 28 man-made chemicals, including organochlorine chemicals (DDT and HCB), perfluorinated compounds (PFOS and PFOA, used in the production of textiles, food packaging and non-stick coatings) and brominated flame retardants (19 types of PBDE). All three chemical groups are proven or suspected hormone disrupting chemicals and have been linked to alterations in animals' neurological function, behaviour and reproduction.

Organochlorines were found in all swordfish samples, with brominated flame retardants in all but one. PFOS and PFOA were not detected.

“The fact that flame retardant chemicals contained in the TV set of a European household end up in the body of a swordfish should make EU politicians wonder what has gone wrong and support a much more precautionary approach to chemicals, especially for those interfering with the hormone system,” stressed Dr Eva Alessi of WWF-Italy.

"As a large predatory fish, this species is at the top of the food chain and is a good indicator of the level of chemical contamination in the Mediterranean Sea. Besides its ecological value, swordfish is also of high commercial interest, as it is widely consumed in many Mediterranean countries."

The report also highlights that current chemicals legislation in the EU has failed to protect the Mediterranean ecosystem from the threat of hazardous chemicals, particularly as many of these substances have already been detected in numerous Mediterranean species such as dolphins, whales, birds and fish.

"Current monitoring programmes deal mainly with the old chemicals, such as PCBs, but we know hardly anything about the presence and effects of newer chemicals such as brominated flame retardants in the Mediterranean and their impact on wildlife," added Professor Silvano Focardi of the University of Siena, the scientist responsible for the study.

"Emerging problematic chemicals are often only found by coincidence. REACH is fundamental to get us out of the dark.”

REACH, the proposed new EU chemicals law, could help identify and phase out the most hazardous chemicals. But for that to happen, REACH needs to be strengthened and EU decision-makers must show the necessary political will to ensure that the new chemicals legislation will be able to prevent industrial man-made chemicals from further contaminating our Mare Nostrum.

The new evidence of toxic chemicals found in Mediterranean swordfish makes strengthening the proposed EU chemicals law all the more urgent.

For further information
Noemi Cano, WWF DetoX Campaign
Tel: +31 2 743 8806

Eva Alessi, WWF-Italy
Tel: +39 32 8826 1804