Scientists Warn of Toxins In San Francisco Bay

Friday July 11, 2003

Bay Area fish lovers could be risking their neurological health, as well as that of their unborn children, says a report released Thursday by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization based in Oakland and Washington, D.C. 

The group released the report at the Berkeley Pier, telling attendees that their study of six kinds of commonly eaten Bay fish shows that the level of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)— neurotoxic chemicals found in fire retardants contained in electronic devices, furniture, cars, and TV sets— has increased by as much as three times since 1997. The study shows that detected PBDE levels doubled in halibut and tripled in striped bass since samples were taken six years ago. 

PBDEs are similar to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), cancer-causing chemicals that were banned in 1977. Scientists say PBDEs cause permanent neurological and developmental damage including behavioral changes, delays in sensory-motor development, and deficits in hearing, learning and memory. Most at risk are developing fetuses, infants, young children, and people with hypothryroidism.  

“We don’t have to poison the bay or our bodies for fire safety,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG analyst and principal author of the study. Lunder says the level of PBDEs in people and animals in the bay is 60 percent higher than levels in Europe and Asia. 

The Senate is expected to vote on a bill proposed by Wilma Chan that would ban some types of PBDEs in consumer products in 2008, making California the first state to regulate the chemicals. The bill was passed by the Assembly in May.  

“The United States is the biggest maker and user of chemical flame retardants in the world, and California is the largest market in the nation,” Chan said. “It’s important that we act now to keep these toxins out of our bodies and our environment.”