Lake Erie’s Smallmouth Bass Continue Bioaccumulating Flame Retardants

By on March 11, 2016
Smallmouth bass. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

A study led by scientists at the University at Buffalo indicates that levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, used as flame retardants, aren’t decreasing in Lake Erie’s smallmouth bass. Instead, researchers report in the journal Environmental Pollution that bioaccumulation in the lake’s smallmouth is likely to continue.

The movement of the substance through the food chain is pretty simple. Zebra mussels in the lake suck it up as they filter-feed, then round gobies eat the mussels. Smallmouth bass that eat the gobies then take up the ethers, accumulating more and more over time.

The danger, then, is to humans who eat bass too often. The ethers the fish have taken up are confused by the human body as thyroid hormone and could cause hypothyroidism in anglers over the long term, researchers say.

As in smallmouth, polybrominated diphenyl ethers also bioaccumulate in humans, so it is not possible to get rid of the substances once they’re ingested. Scientists add that the ethers will take a very long time to drop to below levels of concern in the Great Lakes.

Top image: Smallmouth bass. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

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