Baltic fish toxins warning Published: 25 January, 2005
FISH from some areas of the Baltic Sea are so contaminated that they may be too toxic for EU markets, warns WWF Scotland, part of the global conservation organisation.
According to a new report, Clean Baltic within REACH?, every year from the late 1980s to early 1990s, 31 kg of polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs) accumulated in the fish caught from the Baltic Sea, and almost certainly ended up on people’s plates.
Some of the fatty fish found in the Baltic do not comply with EU requirements for dioxins, and in 1995 the Swedish authorities recommended that women of childbearing age limit their consumption of Baltic herring and salmon because of the contamination with toxic substances such as furans, dioxins and PCBs. Sweden and Finland have been authorised to place on the domestic market fish from the Baltic region with dioxin levels above the EU limit, for an interim period. This period comes to an end in December 2006.
The report also reveals that several fish species, such as Atlantic salmon, sea trout, cod and turbot, have shown signs of reproductive problems in recent decades. The level of brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) found in herring is 50 times higher in the Baltic Sea than in the Atlantic. But it is not only the fish that is contaminated. The levels of polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs, banned since 2000) and PBDEs in top predators such as seals, guillemots and the white-tailed sea eagle are two to five times higher in the Baltic Sea than in the North Sea and Arctic Ocean. Other harmful chemicals, such as perfluorinated compounds, have been found lately in harbour porpoises, as well as in various fish and bird species.
“Baltic species are thoroughly contaminated with chemicals”, said Dr. Richard Dixon, Head of Policy at WWF Scotland. “This is not just a burden of the past but a major ongoing problem”.
The Baltic Sea is an ecosystem highly sensitive to pollution, as there is little exchange of water with the neighbouring Atlantic Ocean. As a result, the sea’s contaminated water can remain in place for 25 to 30 years. And, to make the situation even worse, low water temperatures and ice cover mean that the chemicals degrade extremely slowly.
WWF stresses that the current EU chemical legislation has failed to protect the Baltic ecosystem and its biodiversity from the toxic threat of hazardous chemicals, but REACH, the new EU legislation on chemicals, could contribute to the protection of a vulnerable area such as the Baltic Sea. The need to identify and replace the worst chemicals that damage the reproduction and development of marine species is long overdue, the global conservation organisation says. Once implemented, the REACH system will prevent persistent and bioaccumulative substances from further contaminating the Baltic Sea environment.
“The existing EU chemicals regulation is obviously not able to provide sufficient protection, but the debate about a new EU chemicals policy gives hope for a clean Baltic,” said Dr. Dixon. “REACH is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have safer chemicals and a healthier future for wildlife and people. New markets for safer products and increased trust should make it good news for the chemical industry too.”
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