A new study released by Greenpeace this week has found that European eels from 20 rivers and lakes in 10 countries contain residues of at least one brominated flame retardant (BFR) compound, indicating the widespread dispersal of these chemicals.

And, levels of BFRs in a sample of eels from the Thames were more than double those recorded in the majority of other samples in the study.

The chemicals are widely used in textiles, plastics and electronic goods, and there is mounting concern that they exhibit a clear potential for adverse effects in humans and wildlife.

Two of the BFR groups, found in levels significantly higher in the UK eels than in any other sample, could adversely impact on neuro-behavioural development in mammals (development of behaviour, memory and learning) and also interfere with thyroid hormone systems.

“People eating eels, including the traditional Cockney delicacy of jellied eels, could be adding significantly to their daily intake of these and other persistent, hazardous chemicals,” said Dr David Santillo, Senior Scientist with the Greenpeace Research Laboratories.

The eels were also tested for levels of PCBs, chemicals now banned from use, with a sample form the Netherlands showing the highest amounts.

“The ongoing legacy of PCBs, banned over 20 years ago, illustrates the long-term consequences of allowing the manufacture and use of chemicals which can build up in our bodies,” added Santillo. “Yet, with chemicals like BFRs, governments are in danger of making the same mistakes all over again.”

The Greenpeace report – Swimming in Chemicals – has been published just two weeks before the European Parliament and governments of EU member states decide on final drafts for the REACH regulations on chemical registration.

“The chemicals industry is lobbying to escape regulation even while hazardous chemicals seep into the environment,” said Helen Perivier of Greenpeace International. “It is time for the European Parliament and national governments in the EU to hold industry accountable for the chemicals it releases into the environment and to protect freshwater ecosystems, wildlife and ourselves.”

Greenpeace is urging for a strong vote to require the chemicals industry to identify and substitute any problem chemicals during the REACH negotiations.

Perhaps then the future of the Cockney traditional delicacy will be assured.

Carole Jolly, spokesperson for the Pearly Society in London told edie she would back stricter regulation for any chemicals that are polluting the Thames.

“If they’re poisonous, it would stop a lot of people eating them and that wouldn’t be on,” she said. “They should stop using these chemicals. Eels are a very hardy fish, and if they’re being affected, then everything will be affected.”

David Hopkins

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