The first step towards the elimination of the flame-retardant chemicals called PBDEs in the early 2000s was found, thanks to another problematic chemical group called Organophosphate esters. This year, the use of OPEs has increased dramatically, but the researchers have not been aware of their potential hazards on humans and organisms. The study was carried out on March 23, 2022 in the Nature Reviews Earth & Environment Journal.
OPEs are often found in the air, seawater, snow, sediments, and even accumulated in marine organisms and mammals in the polar regions. The moving air masses and ocean currents have also exhibited in the Arctic and other regions far from shore.
Although actual studies on OPEs in marine organisms are limited, laboratory experiments have found some OPEs to be neurotoxic and carcinogenic. They can harmful effects on genetic stability, hormonal balance, and reproduction. In this regard, Zhiyong Xie believes that when we eliminate one toxic substance, we should not take another toxic substance to avoid further suffering. We need to also seek alternatives that are environmentally friendly.
OPEs in our environment
Given the wide presence of OPEs in the ocean environment and biota, the harmful effects of the substance group on organisms were identified. Firstly, there is a problem on the photosynthesis of certain algae species and their population growth, and secondly, the immune system of marine mussels is irritated. There are indications that OPEs are photodegradable in seawater and their decomposition ingredients were detected in fish from the sea and polar bears, which are on the highest predator position in the Arctic
The need for adequate data and enhanced research is increasing owing to the fact that OPEs are firmly integrated into our daily living products. Health effects especially for children are barely known, and the detected concentrations appear in magnitudes of tons per year, which is surprising.
OPEs are exhibited by abrasion, volatilization, and leaching in the water, although it must be weighed between non-chlorinated and chlorinated OPEs. These latter are even more persistent, highly mobile, and toxic. From the terrestrial sources, rivers like the Rhine transport these contaminants into coastal areas from where they travel within the ocean circulation and occur even in remote areas like the Arctic. The atmosphere serves as a transportation service for the chemicals.
The risk of climate change
Noteworthy concentrations of OPEs have been found in the earth''s frozen environment, called the cryosphere. Global warming and thus melting ice shields, glacier retreat, and permafrost throwing will greatly increase the relative abundance and concentration of OPEs in the aquatic system, owing to possibility impacts on ocean health.
There is hardly any international regulation to overcome the rising OPE concentrations. At the Stockholm Convention, a POP Review Committee published a list of targeted chemicals. It is aimed at depleting these chemicals and ultimately eliminating them from the environment. OPEs are not linked to OPEs, but some of the listed substances are now targeted. He explains, by publishing this study they hope to attract attention to the OPEs and to introduce them to the chemical list for risk management assessment.
The authors conclude by requesting immediate regulation for the use of OPEs towards a worldwide production stop. On the long run, the research argues that flame-retardants are required to be safer and less toxic, avoiding excessive substitutions as previously experienced.