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GREAT LAKES: FLAME RETARDANTS AND PLASTICIZERS FOUND IN GREAT LAKES SEDIMENTS
This story is brought to you in part by Waterloo Biofilter Systems
It is quite common to hear of air pollution or water pollution but an often overlooked space is the sediment found at the bottom of our waterways.
Pollutants trapped within its grasps can have a slow release into the environment that can last for many years after originally finding their way there.
Professor An Li of the University of Illinois is part of the Great Lakes Sediment Surveillance Program (GLSSP), a US based lab that is responsible for studying various pollutants in the Great Lakes sediment.
Their most recent study was on organophosphate esters (OPE), which have been used as flame retardants and plasticizers in various household goods from children's toys to electronics.
"Most people are exposed to OPEs directly through many consumer products in the home and daily life," Li said, "Although (the exposure is) not directly from sediment, the fact that these are detected in the sediment is very alarming."
Li and her team didn't know whether they would detect these types of chemicals in the lake sediment because some of them are pretty water soluble and it was thought they'd take some time to accumulate.
When broken down, they can be highly toxic. Some organophosphates are used as insecticides and as nerve agents in biological weapons.
"We're still figuring out how persistent OPEs are," Li said adding that although production of pollutants like PCB stopped production in the 1970s, resulting in lower input into the Great Lakes, the sediment is still highly contaminated by them.
In this case, "OPEs are still being produced and finding their way into the environment," said Li," So the sediment becomes a secondary source, releasing the chemicals gradually back into the water and air."
According to the study, 63 tons of OPEs are in Michigan at the moment. Of those, 17 are in the sediment.
"From the spatial distribution we did on three lakes we saw differing concentration levels," Li said,"
In Lake Superior, where there is less human concentration we saw more volatile (relatively light) OPEs," adding," Lake Ontario, which is much closer to human activity has heavier OPEs."
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