Balmoral fish found to contain high levels of chemicals

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The Independent Online

Fish in some of Europe's most remote mountain lakes, including at Lochnagar on the Royal Balmoral Estate, are contaminated with industrial chemicals, according to a report published today.

Brown trout caught in the area made famous by the Prince of Wales in his story The Old Man of Lochnagar were the worst affected in the study monitoring the presence of polybromodiphenyl (PBDEs) in high-altitude waters.

According to the research, fish tissue examined from Balmoralcontained 10 times the levels of PBDEs ­ a substance used to retard the flammability of textiles and plastics ­ than those in other European mountain lakes.

Exposure to PBDEs has been linked to thyroid problems and the disruption of hormonal function in animals. The EU has agreed to ban two PBDEs, penta and octa, from 15 August after it was discovered they could be passed on in human breast milk.

Although the levels found are not known to be hazardous to human health, PBDEs do not break down in the environment. They travel up the food chain and accumulate inside the bodies of predators.

Researchers from universities in Barcelona and Oslo investigating the spread of PBDEs found all 12 lakes they tested were contaminated. The other lakes examined were in Greenland, Norway, France, Austria, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Because the lakes were situated far away from local sources of pollution, the findings suggest that the chemicals can spread hundreds of miles. Richard Dixon, the head of policy at the wildlife charity WWF Scotland, said: "These PBDEs will have arrived as dust washed out of the air by rain and snow. Once in the lake water, they would have entered the food chain." Each year between 11,000 and 25,000 tons of PDBEs are used in the EU, according to the WWF.

The discovery of the chemicals comes just three months after a study of pollutants in farmed salmon found the fish contained chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects.

The presence of the PCBs and dioxins prompted the report's authors, from the University of Indiana, to advise people to eat no more than two ounces of Scottish farmed salmon every month.