|OSLO - Chemicals widely used as flame retardants in homes have been found in polar bears and birds in the Arctic, raising fears that they could pose a health hazard, Norwegian scientists said yesterday.|
Norway\'s government said it would seek a European Union review of the chemicals, used in everything from computers to clothes, saying their presence in the Arctic showed the need to investigate whether they were damaging for humans and wildlife.
\"Traces of the compounds were found in studies of polar bears and in glaucous gulls,\" said Geir Wing Gabrielsen, head of a toxicology research program at the Norwegian Polar Institute.
\"This is the first time that this flame retardant has been found in the Arctic,\" he told Reuters of the research by the Polar Institute and Norwegian Veterinary Institute on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard in the north Atlantic.
Traces of the so-called deca-BDE (BromoDiphenyl Ether) flame retardant, also commonly used in car upholstery and televisions, had previously been found in falcons in Sweden and samples of human blood further south.
But the discovery in Arctic animals, far from sources of pollution and swept north by prevailing winds and ocean currents, is a sign that they may not break down as quickly into harmless units as previously thought, Gabrielsen said.
The European Union will ban two other types of brominated flame retardant - penta-BDE and octa-BDE - later this year because of health worries. Norway, which is not a member of the EU but has close links to the bloc, will also ban the two.
\"I will take these findings to the EU and say that we now need a full review (of deca-BDE) so that this does not become the PCB and mercury of the future,\" Norwegian Environment Minister Boerge Brende told NRK public television.
PCB was one of a \"dirty dozen\" toxic chemicals outlawed by a U.N. convention from May 17 in a crackdown on chemicals blamed for causing cancers and birth defects and damaging the nervous systems of people and animals.
Brominated flame retardants are not among the dirty dozen and manufacturers say they save thousands of lives every year by slowing the spread of fires.
The WWF environmental group urged a ban on deca-BDE, even though it said little was known about its toxicity.
\"The fact that it travels long distances, accumulates in wildlife and potentially breaks down into other harmful compounds is, in WWF\'s view, enough to justify a ban,\" it said.
Story by Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE