Flame retardants are yet another toxic threat to polar bears

New research confirms that polar bears — for years known to be victims of northward-spreading toxic substances — are accumulating in their bodies worrying levels of flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers. The effects of this PBDE contamination are unknown, but similar chemicals are believed to be weakening the bears’ immune systems, changing their bone structure, and skewing their sex hormones. According to research published in December in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, polar bears in eastern Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard islands are the most highly contaminated of all Arctic populations. Scientists believe that most of the PBDEs are coming from northwestern Europe and the east coast of North America. In the U.S., they’re widely used in manufacturing furniture, carpet padding, electronics, and plastics.