Our previous study suggested the transfer of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants from ingested plastics to seabirds’ tissues. To understand how the PBDEs are transferred, we studied leaching from plastics into digestive fluids. We hypothesized that stomach oil, which is present in the digestive tract of birds in the order Procellariiformes, acts as an organic solvent, facilitating the leaching of hydrophobic chemicals. Pieces of plastic compounded with deca-BDE were soaked in several leaching solutions. Trace amounts were leached into distilled water, seawater, and acidic pepsin solution. In contrast, over 20 times as much material was leached into stomach oil, and over 50 times as much into fish oil (a major component of stomach oil). Analysis of abdominal adipose, liver tissue, and ingested plastics from 18 wild seabirds collected from the North Pacific Ocean showed the occurrence of deca-BDE or hexa-BDEs in both the tissues and the ingested plastics in three of the birds, suggesting transfer from the plastic to the tissues. In birds with BDE209 in their tissues, the dominance of BDE207 over other nona-BDE isomers suggested biological debromination at the meta position. Model calculation of PBDE exposure to birds based on the results of the leaching experiments combined with field observations suggested the dominance of plastic-mediated internal exposure to BDE209 over exposure via prey.
Kosuke Tanaka, Hideshige Takada, Rei Yamashita, Kaoruko Mizukawa, Masa-aki Fukuwaka and Yutaka Watanuki, Environ. Sci. Technol., 49 (19), pp 11799–11807, 2015