Swimming in dangerous waters

Eels across Europe contaminated with persistent chemicals

Press release - 3 November, 2005
Man-made chemicals are contaminating the European eel, a species rapidly vanishing from lakes and rivers across Europe, according to a Greenpeace study published today.

Greenpeacereleased its report,

Swimming in Chemicals

[1], just two weeks before theEuropean Parliament and governments of EU member states decide whetherto bow to an industry lobby that would weaken proposed EU legislationfor greater protection from hazardous chemicals or vote to safeguardour lives and the environment from these dangers.

The study of European eels (Anguilla anguilla) from 20 rivers and lakesin 10 EU countries [2] demonstrates their widespread contamination withbrominated flame retardants (BFRs), a group of chemicals used intextiles, plastics and electronic goods and of increasing concernregarding their toxicity. Many of the chemicals found in eels remain inuse throughout Europe while others have been phased out since the1970s.

"The chemicals industry is lobbying to escape regulation even whilehazardous chemicals seep into the environment," said Helen Perivier ofGreenpeace International. "It is time for the European Parliament andnational governments in the EU to hold industry accountable for thechemicals it releases into the environment and to protect freshwaterecosystems, wildlife and ourselves from hazardous chemicals forgenerations to come."

Results found that eels from every location contained residues of atleast one BFR compound, indicating the widespread dispersal of thesechemicals in European waters. The highest levels of BFRs were recordedin the eels collected from the River Thames in the UK. The highestlevel of PCBs was recorded in a sample from the Netherlands(Hollandsdiep). Among the lowest levels of all the contaminants werereported in eels from the west of Ireland.

Already under severe threat from overfishing, habitat loss and possiblyclimate change, numbers of young eels returning to some European watersare now thought to be as low as 1% of historic levels. Contaminationwith persistent toxins may also be an important factor in the declineof this intriguing species believed to migrate thousands of miles fromthe North Atlantic to Europe.

Growing evidence indicates that BFRs, which are persistent andbioaccumulative chemicals, exhibit a clear potential for adverseeffects in humans and wildlife and that two of the BFR groups examinedin this study may adversely impact neurobehavioral development andthyroid hormone systems.

Greenpeace is urging EU governments and the European Parliament to votefor legislation requiring the chemicals industry to identify andsubstitute problem chemicals. The European Parliament will vote on theproposed REACH legislation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation ofChemicals) [3].

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organization, which usesnon-violent, creative communication tools to put the spotlight onglobal environmental problems and to drive towards solutions essentialfor a green and peaceful future.

Other contacts: Helen Perivier, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner, tel +32 496 127107Katharine Mill, Greenpeace International Communications, tel +32 496 156229David Santillo, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, tel +44 1392263917

Notes: [1] “Swimming in Chemicals: Widespread presence of brominated flame retardants and PCBs in eels (Anguilla anguilla) from rivers and lakes in 10 European countries.http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/pollutionPCBBFReels[2] Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and UK. The eels were donated by members of the fishing and science community or purchased in local markets.[3] The European Parliament will vote on the REACH proposal on 17 November, and the Council (EU Member States) will form a common agreement on the legislation on 29 November. The chemicals industry, actively supported by EU Industry Commissioner Verheugen, is lobbying for exemptions that would allow it to continue producing and marketing chemicals without providing basic health and safety data for their chemicals. Such a measure would cripple the ability of the REACH legislation to protect health and environment.Links to earlier Greenpeace investigations of hazardous chemicals in house dust, perfumes and other consumer products, rainwater, and umbilical cord blood: http://www.greenpeace.org/toxics/cheminvestigations