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Fire retardants in falcons

Monday, May 12, 2008

postcard_final.jpgPeregrine falcons in California's major coastal cities carry the the highest levels of flame retardants and other industrial chemicals ever found in living creatures, according to a new study by California state scientists.

As Marla Cone reports in the Los Angeles Times, California's peregrine falcons were "once driven to the edge of extinction by DDT," which thinned their eggshells so severely their offspring could not survive. In the 1970s, the total number of peregrines in North America dropped as low as 300, including just two in California. Today, 36 years after DDT was banned, the falcon has been removed from the Endangered Species List, and there are believed to be 3,000 nesting pairs, including 300 in California. Now, according to the study, they're under a new chemical assault from fire retardants, known as PBDEs, which are potent neurotoxins used in dozens of everyday products.

Kim Hooper, a scientist with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control's environmental chemistry laboratory who led the study, said the PBDE levels in the peregrines have doubled every 10 years, and might still be increasing. . . . "We think urban wildlife are sentinels for exposure to indoor pollutants in big cities," Hooper said.

And not just any old PBDEs, but the kind known as Deca. That's significant, because two years ago California banned two other kinds of flame retardants, spurring several other states to follow suit and pressuring the manufacturer to pull those two PBDEs of the market. But the chemical industry has fought fiercely to keep the use of Deca, despite evidence of its toxicity.

EWG has published several groundbreaking studies about fire retardants: in San Francisco Bay sportfish, in household dust and in mother's milk.