U.S. Water News Online
CHICAGO -- Scientists are testing water from Lake Michigan
in hope of determining how a new class of chemical pollutants managed
to spread through the environment and how dangerous the toxins are.
A $100,000 pilot study by the federal Environmental Protection
Agency in four areas down the length of Lake Michigan is the first of
its kind in the Great Lakes seeking to learn how many toxins -- also
known as ``emerging contaminants'' -- have made their way into lake
waters and, perhaps, how they got there.
The emerging contaminants are used in flame retardants,
stain-repellent coatings for textiles and countless household
products originally presumed safe.
Such pollutants ``are new to us, both environmentally and
analytically,'' said water sampling project head Matt Simcik, an
assistant professor of environmental chemistry at the University of
Minnesota School of Public Health.
The long-term health effects of the contaminants are not known,
even though a majority of Americans are estimated to have trace
amounts of the chemicals in their blood. No one is sure how they
enter the food chain, or how to get rid of them.
Included among the chemicals are PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl
ethers, which are used as flame retardants in everything from chair
cushions to computer plastics. Their use is so ubiquitous that levels
of PBDEs in humans, wildlife and the environment have been doubling
every four to five years, according to the EPA.
Some fire retardants with the chemical have been banned in Europe
and California starting in 2004 and 2008, respectively.
Even more puzzling to scientists are two other related chemicals
-- PFOS and PFOA -- used in the manufacture of a range of products
from Teflon to microwave popcorn bags.
``I don't think we have any clue as to the long-term consequences
to human health,'' said Deborah Swackhamer, who heads the Water
Resources Center at the University of Minnesota.
Results from the EPA's study won't be ready for months. But
emerging contaminants have been detected in fish from all five Great
Lakes, said Swackhamer, who conducted a fish study.
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