Industrial Chemicals and Processes

Science Center Objects

Industry, including manufacturing, chemical processing, and energy development and extraction, is a critical part of our nation’s economy. Chemicals such as lubricants, coolants, flame retardants, adhesives and others are widely used in industrial processes. And sometimes these chemicals are encountered by wildlife as spills, wastes, and byproducts in the environment.  Our research seeks to better understand and reduce potential health hazards posed by industrial chemicals and processes to our wildlife and their habitats.

Short-Chain Chlorinated Paraffins (SCCPs)

Short-Chain Chlorinated Paraffins (SCCPs) (Public domain.)

Effects of Short Chain Chlorinated Paraffins (SCCPs) on developing birds

Short-Chain Chlorinated Paraffins (SCCPs) are complex technical mixtures of polychlorinated n-alkanes used in lubricants and coolants in metalworking, as flame retardants, and in paints, adhesives, sealants, textiles and polymeric materials, plastics and rubber. SCCPs are of concern because they are globally transported, bioaccumulate in wildlife and humans, and are environmentally persistent. Their toxicity has been demonstrated in multiple species and their presence has been detected in wild birds and their eggs far from primary manufacturing centers. However, few controlled studies have been conducted to determine the potential hazard and risk that SCCPs pose to free-ranging birds.

 

 

 

Avian egg injection

Avian egg injection (Public domain.)

Assessing Adverse Outcomes Associated with Exposure of Birds to Flame Retardants

The use of flame retardants (FRs) as additives in a variety of consumer use products, including plastics, textiles, and electronics, is projected to continue and increase for the foreseeable future. Because of unanticipated environmental problems, some FRs have either been banned, restricted, or are being phased-out and replaced by other new and presumably safer FRs. Regrettably, many of these alternative FRs are found to bioaccumulate in wildlife tissues, including in bird eggs, suggesting exposure through maternal deposition. However, few data are available on the potential adverse effects in exposed animals. The use of flame retardants (FRs) as additives in a variety of consumer use products, including plastics, textiles, and electronics, is projected to continue and increase for the foreseeable future. Because of unanticipated environmental problems, some FRs have either been banned, restricted, or are being phased-out and replaced by other new and presumably safer FRs. Regrettably, many of these alternative FRs are found to bioaccumulate in wildlife tissues, including in bird eggs, suggesting exposure through maternal deposition. However, few data are available on the potential adverse effects in exposed animals.

 

Study of toxicity of PBDE flame retardants in various bird embryos

Study of toxicity of PBDE flame retardants in various bird embryos (Public domain.)

 

 

Toxicity of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers and Other Flame Retardants to Wildlife

Polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants (PBDEs) are contaminants that bioaccumulate and biomagnify in aquatic and terrestrial food webs. Unlike many contemporary pollutants, these flame retardants have increased in the environment over the past 30 years. Studies in Chesapeake and Delaware Bays have documented concentrations of nearly 1 μg/g wet weight of PBDEs in osprey eggs, and even greater levels in peregrine falcon eggs. Limited information is available on the toxicity thresholds of these compounds and new organophosphate flame retardants in wildlife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historic lead mine in southeastern Missouri

Historic lead mine in southeastern Missouri (Public domain.)

Poisoning of Migratory Birds at Contaminated Sites

The Department of the Interior (DOI) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration are trustees for a wide variety natural resources that belong to all Americans. Additional natural resources are overseen by Native American tribes, states, and other federal agencies. Migratory birds are an example of a trust species for DOI, under the US Fish and Wildlife Service. When wild birds have been injured by pollution, DOI may sue the party responsible for direct injury to birds, or for loss of habitat. The recovered damages are usually spent in restoring or buying habitat; in some instances funds are spent to benefit wildlife populations directly. Consequently, biologists from the USGS and the Fish and Wildlife Service have been studying various sites contaminated from mining and smelting of zinc, lead and other metals to determine if birds have been injured. Data on such injuries provide the basis for possible litigation and provide benchmarks for restoration activities.