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GreenLeap News » Polar Bears Can’t Catch a Break

Polar Bears Can’t Catch a Break

On the heels of news that polar bears are suffering from extreme habitat loss due to shrinking glaciers in the Arctic, the bears have new troubles: they are now showing dangerously high levels of flame retardant (also known as polybrominated diphenyls or PBDE’s) in their fatty tissue. The flame retardants travel northward from North America and Europe to the Arctic via winds and ocean currents.

Research published in December’s Environmental Science and Technology, states that the most contaminated bears are found in Greenland and Norway's Svalbard Islands. This difference is most likely in large part due to global winds. Though effects of the chemicals on polar bears are not yet certain, tests on lab animals show that exposure to the compounds disrupts thyroid and sex hormones, brain development, motor skills and mental abilities, and also weakens their immune systems. The flame retardants are extremely slow to decompose in cold climates. Moreover, since polar bears are at the top of the food chain and feed on smaller mammals such as ringed seals that are also contaminated by PBDE, their exposure to contaminants becomes particularly acute.

PBDE’s are most commonly used in North America to make furniture cushions flame resistant, but also used for carpet padding, electronics, furniture and car seats. Fortunately, the PDBE’s are now out of active production since abnormally high traces were showing up in human breast milk in the United States and Europe.

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Source: Los Angeles Times

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Green Fact:
Polar bears have very large stomachs. Able to hold more than 150 pounds of food, these large bellies serve the bears well during long periods of hibernation. While they hibernate, polar bears may lose up to half of their body weight.
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