WWF report highlights new chemical concerns | WWF

WWF report highlights new chemical concerns

Posted on 29 January 2004
Brominated flame retardants have been recently discovered in the eggs of peregrine falcons.
© WWF / Chris Martin BAHR
Brussels, Belgium - A WWF report published today reveals a collection of recent scientific evidence for contamination of both people and wildlife, such as whales, polar bears, seals and falcons, by a wide range of chemicals used in common consumer products.

The release of the report marks the launch of WWF's DetoX Campaign for the adoption of a stronger EU law on chemicals.

While contamination of animals and humans by harmful chemicals such as DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) has been widely documented, the dangers of many chemicals still on the market - and recently studied - are becoming increasingly clear, according to the WWF report Causes for concern: Chemicals and Wildlife.

The report highlights perfluorinated compounds, phthalates, phenolic compounds and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) as the most prominent new toxic hazards.

Perfluorinated compounds are used in the production of textiles, food packaging and non-stick coatings such as Teflon, while phthalates can be found in plastics (including PVC), phenolic compounds in food cans, plastic bottles and computer shells, and BFRs in fabrics and TVs.

According to the report, these toxic compounds, which contaminate a wide range of animals, can cause severe health disorders such as cancer, damage to the immune system, behavioral problems, hormone disruption, or even feminization.

Scientists have found perfluorinated compounds - classified as cancer-causing chemicals by the US Environmental Protection Agency - in dolphins, whales and cormorants in the Mediterranean, seals and sea eagles in the Baltic, and polar bears.

Hundreds of pet birds are thought to be killed by the fumes and particles emitted from Teflon-coated products each year.
Exposure to bisphenol A has resulted in sex reversals in broad-snouted caiman, an alligator relative native to South America ; and BFRs have been found in sperm whales and seals in the Canadian Arctic, and recently discovered in the eggs of peregrine falcons.

WWF believes that existing regulation to protect wildlife and people from these harmful chemicals is ineffective.

The conservation organization calls for the adoption and strengthening of a proposed EU law known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), which would require manufacturers and importers to provide safety information on the 30,000 or so industrial chemicals annually marketed in Europe.

"Scientific research is increasingly documenting the extent of wildlife and human exposure to chemicals. Future dangers will only be averted if the effects of chemicals are exposed and then the dangerous ones are never used," says Clifton Curtis, Director of WWF Toxics Programme. "Perfluorinated compounds are a perfect example of the need of REACH. Manufacturers like 3M and DuPont conducted research on these substances for 30 years but they were not willing to share the results. REACH would not allow that."

The report warns there is also continuing evidence of widespread, ongoing contamination of animals, people and the environment by chemicals that are now banned or restricted (PCBs, DDT compounds, atrazine, tributyltin).

According to WWF, this shows how persistent these substances are and why it is important to prevent newer-generation chemicals from accumulating in the environment and leaving a similar legacy.

WWF stresses that the precautionary principle is indispensable to reduce the risks posed by past and current chemicals.

Embracing this principle, REACH also responds to the lack of safety information on chemicals on the market, the conservation organization says.

"We know that the global production of chemicals is increasing, and at the same time we have warning signals that a variety of troubling threats to wildlife and human health are becoming more prevalent," adds Clifton Curtis. "It is reckless to suggest there is no link between the two, and give chemicals the benefit of the doubt."

For further information: 

WWF DetoX Campaign,
tel.: +32 2 743 8806 

Olivier van Bogaert,
WWF International,
tel + 41 22 364 9554,

Tina Skaar,
WWF Toxics Programme,
tel.: +1 202 778 9606,

Brominated flame retardants have been recently discovered in the eggs of peregrine falcons.
© WWF / Chris Martin BAHR Enlarge