Photochemical and microbial transformation of emerging flame retardants: cause for concern?

Among anthropogenic chemicals, flame retardants have attracted mounting environmental concerns. In recent years, an increasing number of studies have been conducted worldwide to investigate flame-retardant sources, environmental distribution, wildlife and human exposure, and toxicity. Data generated have demonstrated that some flame-retardant substances such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to exposed organisms. However, comparatively much less attention has been paid to the mechanisms and products of environmental transformation of flame retardants. This lack of information undermines our understanding of the environmental behaviour and fate of flame retardants, as well as the associated risks to environmental and human health. Photochemical and microbial transformation of flame retardants in various matrices and environmental compartments can elevate the toxicological significance of flame retardant exposure, via the formation of, for example, lesser halogenated but more bioaccumulative degradation products and toxic radicals. Such pathways raise concerns related to the environmental safety of some alternative flame retardants that are presumably safe and used to replace PBDEs. To fully assess the environmental risks, more research is needed to investigate the environmental transformation potential of emerging flame retardants including polymeric flame retardants. Enhanced analytical efforts are needed to better characterise transformation products and transient radicals. Additional mesocosm and field studies are needed to elucidate transformation kinetics and consequences under environmentally relevant conditions.

Authors: Chen D, Hale RC, Letcher RJ. ;Full Source: Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry. 2015 Apr;34(4):687-99. doi: 10.1002/etc.2858. ;