Polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants in the antarctic environment
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are anthropogenic chemicals whose environmental behavior is similar to the well-known polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Few studies have quantified the amount and distribution of PBDEs in the southern hemisphere and Antarctica. The analyses reported in this dissertation document the levels of PBDEs in lichens, mosses and seabird eggs collected at King George Island, Antarctic Peninsula. The analyses were carried out using Gas Chromatography/Electron Impact-Mass Spectrometry (GC/EI-MS). Employing the ion stacking technique lowered detection limits and ensured instrument selectivity and sensitivity to the compounds of interest. Lichens and mosses absorb PBDEs directly from the atmosphere and their contamination indicates that long-range transport is the primary source of these chemicals to King George Island. The congener patterns of PBDEs in plants indicate that commercial mixtures of Penta-BDE and Octa-BDE have reached Antarctica. Differences in the levels of PBDEs observed in lichens and mosses are probably due to factors that govern the uptake of PBDEs from the atmosphere. Contamination in lichens showed a positive correlation with local precipitation. Conversely, absorption of PBDEs in mosses appears to be controlled by other plant-specific factors. Marine phytoplankton-derived aerosols are hypothesized to play an important role in the atmospheric transport of PBDEs to the Antarctic environment. PBDEs in south polar skua eggs revealed much higher concentration than in penguin eggs. This is likely associated with the northward migration of these seabirds during the non-breeding season. While penguins reside year-round in Antarctica, south polar skuas migrate northward and can be seen in boreal oceans during the austral winter. Distribution of PBDEs in penguin eggs matches the pattern found in local vegetation suggesting a common source for the chemicals. In contrast, the congener pattern of south polar skuas suggests that birds breeding at King George Island are wintering in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. A potential metabolism of PBDEs in penguin eggs during the incubation period seems to be limited. Most congeners were unaltered from source material in the eggs of chinstrap and gentoo penguins. Low levels of PBDEs, short incubation periods and energy constraints may explain these observations.