Dr. Rob Hale is a dedicated environmental scientist working for the Va. Institute of Marine Science. Rob is one of the world’s authorities on a particular organic contaminant found in BS: polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs. He also sits on the new BS oversight board for the Va. Dept. of Environmental Quality. Here are a few of his recent publications. Link.>
In many ways organic contaminants are the toughest problem with BS. Metals and micro-organisms are of limited types and can be detected, and there is a pretty good scientific basis for setting acceptable levels. But organic compounds are often quite exotic, which means that often not a lot is known about them or the levels at which they are toxic. It also means that detecting and measuring them can be difficult. Just the sheer numbers of such compounds rules out any possibility of monitoring them all — at least with today’s technology. Organic contaminants are virtually all man-made, which means that huge numbers of different types can be produced, so you never have a final list of the problem compounds.
PBDEs are one good example of the problem with organics in BS. PBDEs have been around as household flame-retardants for quite a while. They are sprayed on furniture and on electronic components. They are ubiquitous products of human synthesis and society, but there is at least one report of them being produced naturally by whales, not as flame-retardants of course because whales live underwater and don’t have couches or computers, but as a by-product of presumably normal metabolism.
Since the late 1990’s the Swiss have been all over PBDE’s as toxins, and it seems that until recently most of the research on these compounds is from Swiss scientists. Switzerland banned PBDE’s in 1998 — way before the rest of the world caught on. IN fact, the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught on yet, but the number of research articles on PBDE’s is growing every year. A few green US states have started banning them. As of Jan 1, 2008 Calif. bans all products using the compounds. Washington and Maine are not far behind, but with more limited bans. Wiki Link>
PBDE’s are found in high concentrations in BS and wastewater treatment plant effluents. Recently Rob Hale and colleagues published an article showing that as a result of trash/sewage-dumping activities, McMurdo Base in Antarctica is a point source of PBDE pollution of one of the most and last pristine areas on the planet. Link.
Rob, a marine scientist, has focused a lot of his effort on understanding and documenting the hormone-disrupting effects of PBDE’s on fish — specifically, male fish producing eggs. PBDEs are also known to have effects on the thyroid, impair brain development, decrease sperm counts. They are concentrated in human breast milk. Studies published in 2007 show feminization of bass and other species in the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, including near the outflow of the Blue Plains wastewater treatment facility on the Potomac in Washington, D.C. Link. Blue Plains is a major contributor to BS spread on Virginia rural land.
You connect the dots, especially if you’re breast feeding a baby boy.