Fate of Flame Retardants

Photo_BFRCoresResizedI am leading a unique program at the Experimental Lakes Area to understand the environmental fate of a common flame retardant, decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE). This work is timely and of global importance, as this chemical is currently being evaluated under the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty on persistent organic pollutants (POPs). An urgent research need is to determine whether natural processes cause DecaBDE to degrade into lower-brominated diphenyl ethers, which are are already banned under the Stockholm Convention because they are endocrine disruptors, developmental neurotoxins, and possible carcinogens.

With funding from Environment Canada’s Chemical Management Plan, I conducted a series of in situ microcosm and mesocosm experiments in a boreal lake to assess if DecaBDE, under natural conditions, breaks down into more toxic congeners which are bioaccumulated by invertebrates and fish. As my study is the first field-based experiment to address the potential debromination of DecaBDE, it will go a long way to resolving this highly controversial issue.

For this research, I was awarded the ‘Top PhD Oral Presentation’ by the North American Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in 2010. My preliminary findings have been cited in a state of the science report in Canada, an environmental risk evaluation in the United Kingdom, and in the proposal to list DecaBDE as a POP under the Stockholm Convention.

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