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Flame retardants, used primarily in consumer products, such as furniture and electronics, have become pervasive in the marine environment within the last decade. There are an estimated 175 types of flame retardants. Many of them are polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are easily absorbed by humans and marine species. Harbor seals, an indicator species for the health of our oceans, reveal the presence of PBDEs and other chemical toxins in their habitat. Studying the effects chemicals have on seals can inform us about their potential effects on human health because seals and humans are both mammals, are at the top of the food web, and occupy coastal environments. Seals also feed on many of the same fish humans consume. Some efforts to reduce PBDE levels in humans have been successful. After a ban of certain PBDEs in Sweden went into effect, researchers discovered that PBDE levels in human breast milk decreased. The ocean, however, is a “global sink”—higher levels of PBDEs are observed in the ocean than on land. Achieving such a reduction in the ocean thus requires a larger solution than simply banning industry use of PBDEs. Instead, reducing PBDE levels in seals and the ocean environment will require a comprehensive approach that impacts the entire range of PBDE usage—from creation to end-of-product-life management—and consists of actions by consumers, corporations, state legislatures, Congress, and foreign nations, including international treaties. To understand why such a widespread approach is required, Part II will explore the nature of the problem by identifying the sources of flame retardants, how flame retardants reach the ocean, and the consequences of ocean contamination. This Comment will then evaluate existing and proposed regulations that affect the lifecycle of PBDEs, including restrictions on the sale and use of flame retardants in Part III, and furniture disposal and electronic waste in Part IV. This Comment will conclude with suggestions for minimizing marine exposure to flame retardants.



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