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Concept: Polychlorinated biphenyl


California’s furniture flammability standard Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117) is believed to be a major driver of chemical flame retardant (FR) use in residential furniture in the United States. With the phase-out of the polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) FR mixture PentaBDE in 2005, alternative FRs are increasingly being used to meet TB 117; however, it was unclear which chemicals were being used and how frequently. To address this data gap, we collected and analyzed 102 samples of polyurethane foam from residential couches purchased in the United States from 1985 to 2010. Overall, we detected chemical flame retardants in 85% of the couches. In samples purchased prior to 2005 (n = 41) PBDEs associated with the PentaBDE mixture including BDEs 47, 99, and 100 (PentaBDE) were the most common FR detected (39%), followed by tris(1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate (TDCPP; 24%), which is a suspected human carcinogen. In samples purchased in 2005 or later (n = 61) the most common FRs detected were TDCPP (52%) and components associated with the Firemaster550 (FM 550) mixture (18%). Since the 2005 phase-out of PentaBDE, the use of TDCPP increased significantly. In addition, a mixture of nonhalogenated organophosphate FRs that included triphenyl phosphate (TPP), tris(4-butylphenyl) phosphate (TBPP), and a mix of butylphenyl phosphate isomers were observed in 13% of the couch samples purchased in 2005 or later. Overall the prevalence of flame retardants (and PentaBDE) was higher in couches bought in California compared to elsewhere, although the difference was not quite significant (p = 0.054 for PentaBDE). The difference was greater before 2005 than after, suggesting that TB 117 is becoming a de facto standard across the U.S. We determined that the presence of a TB 117 label did predict the presence of a FR; however, lack of a label did not predict the absence of a flame retardant. Following the PentaBDE phase out, we also found an increased number of flame retardants on the market. Given these results, and the potential for human exposure to FRs, health studies should be conducted on the types of FRs identified here.

Concepts: United States, Mixture, Fire retardant, Flame retardant, Decabromodiphenyl ether, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Flame retardants, De facto


Organochlorine (OC) pesticides and the more persistent polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have well-established dose-dependent toxicities to birds, fish and mammals in experimental studies, but the actual impact of OC pollutants on European marine top predators remains unknown. Here we show that several cetacean species have very high mean blubber PCB concentrations likely to cause population declines and suppress population recovery. In a large pan-European meta-analysis of stranded (n = 929) or biopsied (n = 152) cetaceans, three out of four species:- striped dolphins (SDs), bottlenose dolphins (BNDs) and killer whales (KWs) had mean PCB levels that markedly exceeded all known marine mammal PCB toxicity thresholds. Some locations (e.g. western Mediterranean Sea, south-west Iberian Peninsula) are global PCB “hotspots” for marine mammals. Blubber PCB concentrations initially declined following a mid-1980s EU ban, but have since stabilised in UK harbour porpoises and SDs in the western Mediterranean Sea. Some small or declining populations of BNDs and KWs in the NE Atlantic were associated with low recruitment, consistent with PCB-induced reproductive toxicity. Despite regulations and mitigation measures to reduce PCB pollution, their biomagnification in marine food webs continues to cause severe impacts among cetacean top predators in European seas.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Europe, Spain, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Dolphin, Cetacea, Whale, Marine mammals


Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence. In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants-manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered. To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy. Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity. To coordinate these efforts and to accelerate translation of science into prevention, we propose the urgent formation of a new international clearinghouse.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Developmental biology, Educational psychology, Solvent, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Hyperactivity, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Biphenyl


Here we report a low-cost synthetic approach for the direct fabrication of large-area Au nanourchin arrays on indium tin oxide (ITO) via a facile galvanic-cell-reaction-driven deposition in an aqueous solution of chloroauric acid and poly(vinyl pyrrolidone) (PVP). The homogeneous Au nanourchins are composed of abundant sharp nanotips, which can served as nanoantennas and increase the local electromagnetic field enhancement dramatically. Finite element theoretical calculations confirm the strong electromagnetic field can be created around the sharp nanotips and located in the nanogaps between adjacent tips of the Au nanourchins. In addition, the interparticle nanogaps between the neighboring Au nanourchins may create additional hotspots, which can induce the higher electromagnetic field intensity. By using rhodamine 6G as a test molecule, the large-area Au nanourchin arrays on ITO exhibit active, uniform, and reproducible surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) effect. To trial their practical application, the Au nanourchin arrays are utilized as SERS substrates to detect 3,3’,4,4’-tetrachlorobiphenyl (PCB-77) one congener of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as a notorious class of persistent organic pollutants. The characteristic Raman peaks can be still identified when the concentration of PCB-77 is down to 5 × 10−6 M.

Concepts: Photon, Concentration, Chemistry, Indium tin oxide, Indium(III) oxide, Persistent organic pollutant, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins


Lifetime contaminant and hormonal profiles have been reconstructed for an individual male blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus, Linnaeus 1758) using the earplug as a natural aging matrix that is also capable of archiving and preserving lipophilic compounds. These unprecedented lifetime profiles (i.e., birth to death) were reconstructed with a 6-mo resolution for a wide range of analytes including cortisol (stress hormone), testosterone (developmental hormone), organic contaminants (e.g., pesticides and flame retardants), and mercury. Cortisol lifetime profiles revealed a doubling of cortisol levels over baseline. Testosterone profiles suggest this male blue whale reached sexual maturity at approximately 10 y of age, which corresponds well with and improves on previous estimates. Early periods of the reconstructed contaminant profiles for pesticides (such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes and chlordanes), polychlorinated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers demonstrate significant maternal transfer occurred at 0-12 mo. The total lifetime organic contaminant burden measured between the earplug (sum of contaminants in laminae layers) and blubber samples from the same organism were similar. Total mercury profiles revealed reduced maternal transfer and two distinct pulse events compared with organic contaminants. The use of a whale earplug to reconstruct lifetime chemical profiles will allow for a more comprehensive examination of stress, development, and contaminant exposure, as well as improve the assessment of contaminant use/emission, environmental noise, ship traffic, and climate change on these important marine sentinels.

Concepts: Hormone, Cortisol, Flame retardant, Puberty, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Biphenyl, Humpback whale, Whale song


Although persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic pollutants (PBTs) are well-studied individually, their distribution and variability on a global scale are largely unknown, particularly in marine fish. Using 2,662 measurements collected from peer-reviewed literature spanning 1969-2012, we examined variability of five classes of PBTs, considering effects of geography, habitat, and trophic level on observed concentrations. While we see large-scale spatial patterning in some PBTs (chlordanes, polychlorinated biphenyls), habitat type and trophic level did not contribute to significant patterning, with the exception of mercury. We further examined patterns of change in PBT concentration as a function of sampling year. All PBTs showed significant declines in concentration levels through time, ranging from 15-30% reduction per decade across PBT groups. Despite consistent evidence of reductions, variation in pollutant concentration remains high, indicating ongoing consumer risk of exposure to fish with pollutant levels exceeding EPA screening values. The temporal trends indicate that mitigation programs are effective, but that global levels decline slowly. In order for monitoring efforts to provide more targeted assessments of risk to PBT exposure, these data highlight an urgent need for improved replication and standardization of pollutant monitoring protocols for marine finfish.

Concepts: Time, Scientific method, Toxicology, Pollution, Food chain, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Biomagnification, Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) are neurodevelopmental toxicants, but few studies have examined associations with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Concepts: Autism, Pesticide, Autism spectrum, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Soil contamination, Biphenyl, Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins


Children are exposed to flame retardants from the built environment. Brominated diphenyl ethers (BDE) and organophosphate-based flame retardants (OPFRs) are associated with poorer neurocognitive functioning in children. Less is known, however, about the association between these classes of compounds and children’s emotional and social behaviors. The objective of this study was to determine if flame retardant exposure was associated with measurable differences in social behaviors among children ages 3-5 years.

Concepts: Fire retardant, Flame retardant, Decabromodiphenyl ether, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Brominated flame retardant, Flame retardants, Antimony trioxide


It has been speculated that marine microplastics may cause negative effects on benthic marine organisms and increase bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Here, we provide the first controlled study of plastic effects on benthic organisms including transfer of POPs. The effects of polystyrene (PS) microplastic on survival, activity, and bodyweight as well as the transfer of 19 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were assessed in bioassays with Arenicola marina (L.). PS was pre-equilibrated in natively contaminated sediment. A positive relation was observed between microplastic concentration in the sediment and both uptake of plastic particles and weight loss by A. marina. Furthermore, a reduction in feeding activity was observed at a PS dose of 7.4% dry weight (DW). A low PS dose of 0.074% increased bioaccumulation of PCBs by a factor 1.1 - 3.6, an effect that was significant for ΣPCBs and several individual congeners. At higher doses, bioaccumulation decreased compared to the low dose, which however, was only significant for PCB105. PS has statistically significant effects on the organisms' fitness and bioaccumulation, but the magnitude of the effects was not high. This may be different for sites with different plastic concentrations, or plastics with a higher affinity for POPs.

Concepts: Plastic, Persistent organic pollutant, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Persistent organic pollutants, Biomagnification, PCB Congener List, Biphenyl, Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins


Serum polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Anniston, AL, residents have been associated with hypertension and diabetes. There have been no systematic interventions to reduce PCB body burdens in Anniston or other populations. Our objective was to determine the efficacy of 15 g/day of dietary olestra to reduce PCBs in Anniston residents. Blood PCBs and 1,1-bis-(4-chlorophenyl)-2,2-dichloroethene were measured at baseline and 4-month intervals in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, 1-year trial. Participants with elevated serum PCBs were randomized into two groups of 14 and received potato crisps made with olestra or vegetable oil (VO). Elimination rates during the study period were compared with 5-year prestudy rates. Eleven participants in the olestra group and 12 in the VO group completed the study. Except for one participant in the VO group, reasons for dropout were unrelated to treatments. The elimination rate of 37 non-coplanar PCB congeners during the 1-year trial was faster during olestra consumption compared to the pretrial period (-0.0829±0.0357 and -0.00864±0.0116 year(-1), respectively; P=.04), but not during VO consumption (-0.0413±0.0408 and -0.0283±0.0096 year(-1), respectively; P=.27). The concentration of PCBs in two olestra group participants decreased by 27% and 25% during the trial. There was no significant time by group interaction in change from baseline. However, group main effects for total PCBs and PCB 153 were of borderline significance. This pilot study has demonstrated that olestra can safely reduce body burdens of PCBs and supports a larger intervention trial that may also determine whether reduction in PCBs will reduce the risk of hypertension and diabetes.

Concepts: Randomized controlled trial, Polychlorinated biphenyl, PCB Congener List, Biphenyl, Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins, Chloracne, Potato chip, Olestra