will study chemical toxins in Lake Michigan
Program seeks to learn how new class of pollutants spread
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 that were 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
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.