Flame retardants found in lakes and fish

Flame retardants were found in fish such as this Crucian Carp

Ground-breaking research from the OPAL Water team has recently discovered flame retardants in a number of English lakes and fish, with some important implications.

Flame-retardant chemicals are useful in preventing fires, but they can travel long distances in the air and damage the growth of animals.

As part of their ongoing research into freshwater pollution levels, the OPAL Water team and University of Birmingham scientists have been analysing mud, water and fish from lakes and ponds across England.

Chemicals released from industrial sources can pollute lakes and ponds either in waste water or by being transported in the air and then deposited.

Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are one type of chemical that can be carried in the air. Widely used on furniture, clothing and electricals to prevent fires, BFRs can build up in the bodies of animals and affect the development of embryos and the young. They can also affect the action of hormones.

OPAL Water scientists have found BFRs in every sample they've analysed, including a significant concentration of one particular BFR, known as δ-HBCD,  in some fish. This may suggest that fish are actually making δ-HBCD in their bodies by changing other HBCDs they have taken in - something never reported before.

This has important implications for the way that some of these harmful flame retardants move up the food chain and transfer from one animal to another.

Help the OPAL Water team with their research
You can help OPAL scientists with their research into freshwater pollution. Collect a mud sample from a local lake and let the water team analyse it for metal pollution. Email the Water team for more information: opalwatercentre@geog.ucl.ac.uk.