Mediterranean swordfish under fire?
Brussels, Belgium - For the first time WWF has detected the presence of brominated flame retardant chemicals in Mediterranean swordfish from the Italian coast. PBDE - or polybrominated diphenyl ethers - are a very persistent and bio-accumulative type of flame retardant previously used in computers, TVs and carpets. Despite most of them being banned in the EU, traces are still found in swordfish off the Mediterranean coast. This new evidence makes strengthening the proposed new EU chemicals law (REACH) all the more urgent.
This new WWF study, entitled “Chemical Contamination in the Mediterranean: the case of swordfish”, has been carried out together with the Department of Environmental Sciences of the University of Siena. 17 swordfish samples from the Italian coast were tested for 28 man-made chemicals: organochlorine chemicals (DDT and HCB), perfluorinated compounds (PFOS and PFOA, used in the production of textiles, food packaging and non-stick coatings) and brominated flame retardants (19 types of PBDE). All three chemical groups are proven or suspected hormone disrupting chemicals and have been linked to alterations in animals' neurological function, behaviour and reproduction. Organochlorines were found in all swordfish samples, brominated flame retardants in all but one, and PFOS and PFOA were not detected. As a large predatory fish, this species is at the top of the food chain and is thus a good indicator of the level of chemical contamination in the Mediterranean Sea. Besides its ecological value, swordfish is also of high commercial interest, as it is widely consumed in many Mediterranean countries.
“The fact that flame retardant chemicals contained in the TV set of a European household end up in the body of a swordfish, should make EU politicians wonder what has gone wrong and support a much more precautionary approach to chemicals - especially for those interfering with the hormone system”, says Dr Eva Alessi from WWF.
As this new report highlights, current chemicals legislation has failed to protect the Mediterranean ecosystem from the threat of hazardous chemicals. Many of these substances have already been detected in numerous Mediterranean species such as dolphins, whales, birds and fish.
Professor Silvano Focardi of the University of Siena, the scientist responsible for this study, warns that “current monitoring programmes deal mainly with the old chemicals, such as PCBs. We know hardly anything about the presence and effects of newer chemicals such as brominated flame retardants in the Mediterranean and their impact on wildlife. Emerging problematic chemicals are often only found by coincidence. REACH is fundamental to get us out of the dark”.
REACH, the proposed new EU chemicals law, could help identify and phase out the most hazardous chemicals. But for that to happen, REACH needs to be strengthened and EU decision-makers must show the necessary political will to ensure that the new chemicals legislation will be able to prevent industrial man-made chemicals from further contaminating our Mare Nostrum.
Download the full report (PDF format)