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Environ Sci Technol. 2008 Mar 1;42(5):1452-7.

Antarctic research bases: local sources of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants.

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  • 1Department of Environmental & Aquatic Animal Health, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, P.O. Box 1346, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA.


Contemporary studies of chemical contamination in Antarctica commonly focus on remnants of historical local releases or long-range transport of legacy pollutants. To protect the continent's pristine status, the Antarctic Treaty's Protocol on Environmental Protection prohibits importation of persistent organic pollutants. However, some polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) congeners exhibit similar properties. Many modern polymer-containing products, e.g., home/office furnishings and electronics, contain percent levels of flame retardant PBDEs. PBDE concentrations in indoor dust and wastewater sludge from the U.S. McMurdo and New Zealand-operated Scott Antarctic research bases were high. Levels tracked those in sludge and dust from their respective host countries. BDE-209, the major constituent in the commercial deca-PBDE product, was the dominant congener in sludge and dust, as well as aquatic sediments collected near the McMurdo wastewater outfall. The pattern and level of BDE-209 sediment concentrations, in conjunction with its limited environmental mobility, suggest inputs from local sources. PBDE concentrations in fish and invertebrates near the McMurdo outfall rivaled those in urbanized areas of North America and generally decreased with distance. The data indicate that reliance on wastewater maceration alone, as stipulated by the Protocol, may permit entry of substantial amounts of PBDEs and other chemicals to the Antarctic environment.

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