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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Levels of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in animals representing different trophic levels of the North Sea food Web.

The levels of individual PBDE congeners were investigated in the invertebrate species whelk (Buccinum undatum), seastar (Asterias rubens), and hermit crab (Pagurus bernhardus), the gadoid fish species whiting (Merlangius merlangus) and cod (Gadus morhua), and the marine mammal species harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) and harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). These species are all important representatives of different trophic levels of the North Sea food web. All six major PBDE congeners detected (BDEs 28, 47, 99, 100, 153, and 154) are most prevalent in the commercial Penta-BDE formulation. There is no evidence for the occurrence of the Octa-BDE formulation in the North Sea food web, since its dominant congener, BDE183, was never detected. BDE209, the main congener (> 97%) in the Deca-BDE formulation, was detected only in a minority of the samples and always in concentrations around the limit of detection. Since BDE209 is often the major BDE congener in sediments from the area, the main reason for its low concentrations in biota from the North Sea seems to be a relatively low bioaccumulation potential. This can either be due to a low uptake rate of the very large molecule or a relatively rapid excretion after biotransformation. Since all invertebrates investigated are sentinel species, they are highly representative for the area of capture. The highest lipid-normalized concentrations of PBDEs in the invertebrates occurred near the mouth of the river Tees at the East coast of the UK. The geographical distribution of the PBDEs can be explained by the residual currents in the area. The direction of these currents differs between the summer and the winter season as a result of the presence or absence of vertical summer stratification of the deeper waters north of the Dogger Bank. Summer stratification results in the development of a density-driven bottom water current formed after the onset of vertical stratification of the water column in May leaving the UK coast near Flamborough Head toward the Dogger Bank. In winter, the residual currents run in a more southerly direction and follow the UK coastline. The distribution pattern of the PCBs and p,p'-DDE in the invertebrates was entirely different from that of the PBDEs, which could be expected, since the use of these organochlorines in western Europe peaked in the 1960s and 1970s but has been forbidden more than two decades ago, whereas the production and use of the penta-BDE formulation is of a more recent origin. The higher trophic levels of the North Sea food web were represented by the predatory gadoid fish species whiting and cod and the marine mammal species harbor seal and harbor porpoise. The lipid-normalized levels of the six major PBDE congeners in fish were similar to the levels in the invertebrates, but a biomagnification step in concentrations of generally more than an order of magnitude occurred from gadoid fish to marine mammals. Based on the limited number of samples, no differences could be observed between harbor seal and harbor porpoise. In summary, the results in three species of sentinel invertebrates from a network of stations covering a major part of the North Sea basin showed that the estuary of the river Tees at the UK East coast is a major source for tri- to hexa-PBDEs. Throughout the food-chain, the most marked increase in (lipid-normalized) levels of all six PBDE congeners occurred from predatory (gadoid) fish to marine mammals, agreeing with the transition from gill-breathing to lung-breathing animals. This has serious consequences for the route of elimination of POPs, since their elimination from the blood into the ambient seawater via the gill-membrane is no longer possible.[1]


  1. Levels of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in animals representing different trophic levels of the North Sea food Web. Boon, J.P., Lewis, W.E., Tjoen-A-Choy, M.R., Allchin, C.R., Law, R.J., De Boer, J., Ten Hallers-Tjabbes, C.C., Zegers, B.N. Environ. Sci. Technol. (2002) [Pubmed]
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