Flame Retardants Compounds found in Peregrine Falcon eggs.

[singlepic id=184 w=408 h=537 float=left]Researchers studying peregrine falcon eggs in Spain and Canada have found that chemicals commonly added to fabrics and plastics as flame retardants have been transferred to the eggs of these majestic birds.Flame retardants generally contain highly toxic chemical compounds that are designed to stop plastics, materials and other products from easily burning by inhibiting or resisting the spread of fire. Ethel Eljarrat, a scientist based at the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Studies and co-author of the study says that ”the presence of ‘dechlorane plus’ and other related, chlorinated compounds used as flame retardants have been detected for the first time in the European biota”.

One of the reasons for choosing the peregrine falcon as the species for this particular study was because they are known to accumulate the substances and compounds eaten by their prey. The peregrine falcon has only just recovered from a period of being endangered in the northern hemisphere due to the widespread use of organochlorine pesticides, particularly DDT.

The study looked at eggs that had failed to hatch in falcon nests around Spain and Canada, including the Great Lakes Region. It was discovered that the levels of chemical compounds were higher in the eggs of birds living in coastal environments. It is thought this is due to the fact that coastal falcons would feed on birds that had eaten fish which were likely to be highly contaminated. The researchers confirmed that these toxic chemical compounds are now bio-accumulating throughout the food chain.

The egg samples taken from Canadian nests had significantly higher concentrations of the flame retardants. Scientists believe this is because much of the industry where these compounds are manufactured is located around the New York State area close to where the falcon nests are found.[singlepic id=185 w=267 h=193 float=right]

Researchers have also confirmed the presence of these particular chemical compounds in fish and sediment in Spanish rivers. Other flame retardants have been proven to be toxic endocrine disruptors which have led to their use being banned in Europe and America in some commercial mixes. Discovering the presence of the toxins in the eggs of peregrine falcons is one step towards understanding the effects these chemicals are having on falcon development as well as the surrounding environment.

The study looking at peregrine eggs in Canada and Spain was undertaken by a team from the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Studies (IDAEA-CSIC, Spain), the Institute of Organic Chemistry (CSIC, Spain), and Environment Canada.

Dechlorane Plus in bird eggs.

The team studied a total of 25 eggs – 13 from Spain and 12 from Canada. The eggs came from both inland regions and coastal areas. The eggs with the greatest concentrations of DP came from those found in the coastal regions. This is thought to be because the main prey of the falcons would be other birds that live on fish. Aquatic organisms are more likely to be contaminated than terrestrial organisms.

The researchers chose peregrine falcons as a species to study because they are at the top of the food chain and will highlight any contamination of the local ecosystem. They were also chosen because peregrines have previously suffered at the hands of organo-chlorines in the form of pesticides during the 1960?s and 1970?s.

The study was published in Environmental Science & Technology as “Dechlorane Plus and Related Compounds in Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus ) Eggs from Canada and Spain”. and was authored by Paula Guerra, Kim Fernie, Begoña Jiménez, Grazina Pacepavicius, Li Shen, Eric Reiner, Ethel Eljarrat, Damià Barceló and Mehran Alaee.

This study further confirms the finding of a previous bird eggs study by Muñoz-Arnanz J, Sáez M, Pacepavicius G, Alaee M and Jiménez B who looked at white crane eggs at Donana National Park at regions around Madrid. This study found that white stork eggs around the populated Madrid regions were 4 times more contaminated than eggs from the Donana National Park.

Widespread contamination of DP.

Studies on DP are jut beginning but the first signs are not promising. A research project by scientist of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Institute of Coastal Research discovered the presence of DP in every one of 20 air samples they took while on a research cruises in the Atlantic Ocean. The chemical was present from the Arctic down to the Arctic. Highest concentrations were found close to Greenland.

The concentration of DP in the environment is likely to increase in the coming years as it is now the replacement used by many companies for decaBDE. This flame retardant has been banned by the European Union and many American manufacturers have agreed to phase it out.

There are two main sources of DP entry into the environment in western Europe. The first are manufacturers of goods (Europe do not manufacture DP itself) that use DP and the second are consumers who throw away items after the goods useful life has ended. Because the flame retardants are not chemically bonded to the product they are free to enter the environment.

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