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Ocean Chemicals

May 2, 2014

The U.S. has banned some fire retardants because of their toxicity. But the same chemicals are also produced naturally by marine life.



Some of the same chemicals used in flame retardants also contribute  to the  signature “smell of the sea”. (Susanne C. Bard)


Chemicals from the sea. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Polybrominated organic compounds, or PBDEs, are fire retardants found in furniture, plastics and building materials. But the chemicals are being phased out in the U.S. because they’re thought to be toxic. So it came as surprise to scientists that some marine organisms actually produce these same compounds as a defense mechanism.

BRADLEY MOORE (UCSD/Scripps Institution of Oceanography):

These chemicals are out there in the environment and they are doing the jobs that they are designed to do there, it’s just when they get into human populations, when we have some concern.


That’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography chemical biologist Bradley Moore. He says Californians have unusually high levels of PBDEs, which can linger for years in fatty tissues, and are even found in breast milk. He and his colleagues are now trying to figure out whether both natural and manmade sources play a role. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard