Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Emerging Flame Retardant Contamination in Illinois Fish

Southern Illinois University professor Dr. Da Chen has studied flame retardant contamination all over the world. Thus, when he arrived in Carbondale this past August and confirmed that no such research had been done in Illinois rivers, he submitted a proposal to the Illinois Water Resources Center Annual Small Grants program to study levels of this contaminate in Illinois fish.

Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are a group of chemicals added to everyday items like curtains, toasters, and car seats to reduce their flammability. They are also widely produced, and, Dr. Chen explains, most of them are not actually bound to the substances to which they’re added and so “a fraction may escape during production, use, disposal, and recycling [...] and enter the environment.” And, since some types of BFRs have shown environmental persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxic potential, BFRs have “attracted mounting environmental and human health concerns.”  

“We are living in a world surrounded by flame retardant-treated consumer products,” writes Dr. Chen, “but we know so little about the consequence of massive usage of these man-made chemicals. I am interested in understanding their sources, fate, transport, environmental behavior, wildlife and human exposure, and associated impacts.”

Dr. Chen aims to do just that by partnering with the Fish Contaminant Monitoring Program (FCMP) in Illinois, which has been collecting fish all over the state for decades. Having years of data available means that not only can the change in BFR levels over time be measured but potential sources of contamination can also be identified. Dr. Chen and his lab plan to start analyzing samples collected by the FCMP this spring. Dr. Chen says he expects to find BFRs in the fish, since flame retardants are considered a global contaminant, but anticipates that the levels of contamination will depend on locations within rivers.

Dr. Chen’s research findings will be posted to IWRC’s website in April of 2014.