Study finds common fire retardant harmful to aquatic life

May 24, 2011

A new study by Baylor University environmental health researchers found that zebra fish exposed to several different technical mixtures of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – a common fire retardant – during early development can cause developmental malformations, changes in behavior and death.

The study will appear in the June issue of the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and is the first to test multiple PBDE for changes in behavior, physical malformations and mortality on .

PBDEs are found in many common household products from blankets to couches to food wrappers. Lab tests have shown that PBDEs have been found in human breast milk and cord blood. Previous studies have showed children with high levels of PBDEs in their umbilical cord at birth scored lower on tests between one and six years of age. In 2006, the state of California started prohibiting the use of PBDEs.

The family of PBDEs consists of more than 200 possible substances, which are called congeners. Congeners are considered low if they average between 1 to 5 bromine atoms per molecule.

The Baylor researchers tested six PBDE congeners for developmental effects on embryonic zebra fish. Changes in behavior, physical malformations and mortality were recorded daily for seven days.

The results showed:

  • Lower brominated congeners were more toxic than higher brominated congeners.
  • Embryos were most sensitive to two particular types of PBDE exposures, the two lowest brominated congeners of the six tested. Both induced a curved body axis and eventually death.
  • In all, four of the six congeners tested caused developmental malformations, such as a curved body axis and pulmonary edema. Five of the six caused alterations in behaviors, such as decreased swimming rates and increased spontaneous movement in the embryo.
"While most PBDEs have either been banned or phased out throughout the world, it may be more beneficial to identify congeners of concern rather than replacing these compounds with chemicals of unknown biological interactions," said Dr. Erica Bruce, assistant professor of environmental science at Baylor who is an expert in environmental chemicals and their effects on public health. "Alterations in early behavior may potentially be due to disruption of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones play a vital role in the development of the cholinergic system and this study gives insight into biological interaction within a few hours of exposure. The observed hyperactivity may be due to overstimulation of the cholinergic system," Bruce said.

Explore further: Structure of sodium channels different than previously believed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Flame Retardant Exposure Linked to House Dust

Dec 30, 2004

Common house dust may be an important source of a potentially dangerous class of chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), according to an exploratory study* by researchers at the National Institute of Standards ...

Study links reduced fertility to flame retardant exposure

Jan 26, 2010

Women with higher blood levels of PBDEs, a type of flame retardant commonly found in household consumer products, took longer to become pregnant compared with women who have lower PBDE levels, according to a new study by ...

Study finds flame retardants at high levels in pet dogs

Apr 26, 2011

Indiana University scientists have found chemical flame retardants in the blood of pet dogs at concentrations five to 10 times higher than in humans, but lower than levels found in a previous study of cats.

Recommended for you

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

Apr 16, 2014

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

World's first successful visualisation of key coenzyme

Apr 16, 2014

Japanese researchers have successfully developed the world's first imaging method for visualising the behaviour of nicotine-adenine dinucleotide derivative (NAD(P)H), a key coenzyme, inside cells. This feat ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...