Policy and Law
Flame retardant impacts bird behaviour
A new study from Environment Canada has shown changes in the reproductive behaviour of American kestrels (Falco sparverius) exposed to the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD). The chemical is on track to be banned from products sold in Canada.
By Tyler Irving
Posted October 2012
A new study has provided the first evidence that hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) has an impact on the reproductive behaviours of predatory birds.
HBCD is one of several brominated flame retardants used in products such as automobile upholstery. It is environmentally persistent and bioaccumulative, and concerns have been raised about its potential to disrupt the reproductive biology of predatory birds. In order to test this, a study was designed by scientists from Environment Canada (EC) and McGill University. Captive American kestrels — birds closely related to peregrine falcons — were exposed to HBCD through food at the same levels observed in wild bird populations.
Previously published work from the study showed that HBCD-exposed birds laid more eggs and laid their eggs earlier in the season than non-exposed birds. Yet despite this head start, the exposed group did not show any improvement in reproductive success over the control group. The answer may lie in the behavioural changes documented by the latest paper, which was published in Chemosphere. Exposed pairs were less active during courtship, performing fewer mating calls and bonding displays. “During brood rearing, the HBCD males performed fewer parental behaviours such as entering the nest box or bringing back food for their mates,” says Kim Fernie, the principal EC investigator on the project. “Females performed those key parental behaviours more frequently, possibly because the males were not.”
Data from the study has already begun to shape public policy, including a Screening Assessment on HBCD released by Environment Canada last fall. The federal government has proposed to add HBCD to its Toxic Substances List, paving the way for its virtual elimination from products sold in Canada. Canada is also working with other countries to ban HBCD under international treaties like the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Fernie says that further investigations are still required for other flame retardants, including those that will now be used as replacements for HBCD.
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