Flame retardants that have replaced banned polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in furniture and other consumer products are showing up more frequently in the region, Hites said.
Thirteen currently used flame retardants are increasing in Great Lakes sediment, according to a February study. While they are at lower levels than PBDEs, the authors from the University of Illinois at Chicago called the trend “disturbing.”
New flame retardants also were found in 89 percent of the livers of ringer-bill gulls that breed near Lake Ontario, according to a 2012 study from researchers at the University of Quebec.
In another study by Hites, two new flame retardants – one of them sold as Firemaster 550 – were detected in more than half of the air samples taken at six sites along the shores of the Great Lakes, with the highest concentrations around Chicago and Cleveland.
“The old-fashioned ones are just being replaced by something else,” Hites said. “We’re seeing one of the new flame retardants (Firemaster 550) increasing quite rapidly, doubling every two years.”
The Great Lakes region still has 43 “Areas of Concern,” a term the EPA uses to identify spots with severe environmental degradation. Only four sites have been delisted since 1987 when the program started.
More than 100 contaminant cleanup projects are funded under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, launched by President Obama in 2009.
Jeff Skelding, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said he is pleased to see legacy compounds decreasing. But he warns that there is more work to do.
“The report is an important reminder to the U.S. Congress and next president to support programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are accelerating the cleanup of toxic hotspots around the region,” Skelding said. “If federal public officials cut funding, projects will become harder and more expensive the longer we wait.”
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.