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Columbia River flowing with hormone-disrupting, cancer-causing flame retardant chemicals, scientists warn

Flame retardants

(NaturalNews) Flowing through the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River Basin is known for its magnitude, as it empties more water into the Pacific Ocean than any other river in North and South America. Known for its plentiful salmon population, which has declined dramatically since the early 1900s, the river supplies life to countless plants, animals, fish, birds and insects.

The river holds economic viability, as it generates hydroelectric power, but is also sacred to tribal fisheries, offering scenic and recreational value. However, under current conditions, its beauty might not be sustainable, as corporations and urbanization continue to erode and pollute nature.

For decades, scientists have detected an increase in a variety of chemical contamination in the Basin, threatening vulnerable wildlife. The most widespread pollutants in the Basin are mercury, DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and fire retardants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2009 State of the River Report for Toxics.

Until recently, the increasing presence of flame retardants in nature has puzzled scientists, but a new study spearheaded by a Washington environmental advocacy group finally provides some answers.

The peer-reviewed study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found "that flame retardants are sloughing off household products such as couches and TVs and collecting on people's clothing, washing out in the laundry and passing through wastewater treatment plants into local waterways," reports Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB).

Flame retardants "sloughing" off furniture, electronics and appliances are ending up in the environment and sickening wildlife

The results bring a whole new meaning to "dirty laundry," says the Washington Toxics Coalition, which tested household dust as well as laundry wash-water from 20 homes in Longview and Vancouver, Washington. Samples were also taken from incoming and outgoing water from two wastewater treatment plants that empty into the Columbia River.

Flame retardants were detected in all three of the samples, reports confirm. This study is the first to connect the river's toxic chemicals to people's clothing.

"Toxic flame retardants are hitchhiking on our clothes and literally coming out in the wash," said Erika Schreder, the study's lead author and science director for the coalition.

"This study demonstrates for the first time a key way that toxic flame retardants found in our homes are transported to outdoor environments."

Schreder's investigation discovered 21 different fire retardants in the household dust that was tested, and 18 in laundry wash-water. Dated and insufficient equipment prevents some wastewater treatment plants from filtering out the chemicals, allowing them to eventually enter into the environment.

Based on existing chemical levels in nature, scientists estimate that 1 to 4 percent of the annual production of flame retardants is leaching from consumer products and polluting waterways, reports OPB.

Some of the species adversely affected by these contaminants include juvenile salmon, bass, mountain whitefish and predatory birds like bald eagles, as well as otters, mink and shellfish.

Washington Toxics Coalition fighting for ban on flame retardants

Exposure to flame retardants is also a problem for people, with some of them being carcinogenic. Motor skills, learning, memory and behavior can all be affected following exposure, as well as the reproductive system.

While one class of fire retardants called PBDEs (for polybrominated diphenyl ethers) was taken off the market due to health concerns, another chemical mixture called TDCIPP, or "chlorinated tris," has replaced it, which is also linked to disrupting reproductive systems, the Environmental Working Group reports.

Washington Toxics Coalition is working with the state legislature to pass a ban on the chemicals, preventing future products containing fire retardants from entering the market.

While the measure passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 72-25, ultimately pressure from the chemical industry prevented it from moving past the Senate. However, Gov. Inslee reportedly proposed a "toxics-reduction package" that would phase out several chemicals responsible for inflicting harm on wildlife.

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