Flame retardant pollution "unlikely" to threaten health

Fish contaminated with brominated flame retardants from Great Lakes Chemical's Newton Aycliffe factory are "unlikely to represent a risk to health", an official expert committee has concluded.1

However, the Committee on the Toxicology of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment warns that its finding is "tentative" because of "uncertainties surrounding the toxicological database and exposure assessments".

The Newton Aycliffe site manufactured brominated diphenyl ether (BDE) and hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) flame retardants before closing in December. The chemicals were found in river sediments and wildlife along 40 kilometres of the rivers Skerne and Tees, and also polluted large areas of the North Sea (ENDS Report 348, pp 7-8 ).

The two chemicals are regarded as "chemicals of concern" by the Government's Chemicals Stakeholder Forum because of their persistence and tendency to bioaccumulate.

The Food Standards Agency mounted an investigation into whether it was safe to eat fish from the contaminated rivers. HBCD was found at the highest levels, with trout containing up to 6.7 parts per million and eels up to 9.4ppm (ENDS Report 340, p 13 ).