History repeating itself for peregrine falcons

In the 1970s, DDT poisoning nearly drove the peregrine falcon to extinction. Luckily for them, the U.S. banned DDT in 1972, and the once-endangered species rebounded from 300 breeding pairs 30 years ago to 3,000 pairs today. The species was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999.

But now a different chemical could once again put the peregrine falcon at risk. According to a study conducted by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, peregrines in the state carry a higher level of industrial flame retardants than any other species in the world.

From a report in the Los Angeles Times:

Scientists said the peregrines, the fastest and most agile birds, are being contaminated with the industrial chemicals from eating urban pigeons that scavenge on city streets.

The study found record levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), specifically a chemical called decabromodiphenyl ether (deca), in peregrine eggs and dead chicks. Worst affected are city-dwelling birds, which sometimes had PBDE levels so high that their eggs were unhatchable.

Could this spell future problems for peregrines and other top predator species? It's probably too early to tell, but it's also probably not too early to take action before the situation gets worse. Maine and Washington have already passed laws to phase out the use of deca, and Sweden banned its use last year. Meanwhile, a bill pending in California would ban all brominated and chlorinated flame retardants. Considering how high levels of PBDEs have already shown up in human blood and breast milk around the world, that might not be a bad idea.

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