Although researchers see many fish species thriving in the long-contaminated body of water, the small-mouth bass, a popular catch for local fisherman, show signs of polybrominated biphenyl ethers, or PBDEs.
PBDEs, used as flame-retardant chemicals in furniture, electronics, construction material and textiles, ceased production in 2013 following the discovery of water poisoning. Nevertheless, Lake Erie’s bedrock still bears the signs of the toxin, which made its way into the food chain through a series of invasive species – Zebra Muscles, crowding out the ocean floor, absorbed the material, which wound up in the stomachs of round goby.
Now, the PBDEs have found their way to the small-mouth bass. Researchers from Buffalo University predict that the rates of PBDEs in the species will rise some 50 percent. The round gobies accounted for 97 percent of the contamination in the small-mouth bass, which have started to feed on the invasive organism.
11 million residents of New York State depend on Lake Erie for drinking water. Despite its importance, it has long sat in the line of myriad factories, and grown sullied with manufacturing runoff. By the 1960s, American and Canadian officials collaborated to limit phosphorous loads in the water. The crisis in Lake Erie proved a turning point in America’s environmental crusade, as itinspired the formation of the EPA in 1970, and the Clean Water Act of 1972.
Efforts to clean up the lake have met with some success, but struggles have continued regardless. Dangerous algal blooms, toxic runoff and invasive species have rendered Lake Erie an environmental hazard for over 50 years. Studies have found that power plant pollution will likelydouble the rate of severe algal blooms in the lake within the next century.
Even low levels of PBDEs can have severe effects on humans. They can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones in adults, and linger on in fat cells. But the biggest dangers comes to children; PBDEs can cause problems in pregnant women, and children exposed to the chemical in the womb face decreased IQs, poor attention spans and motor skills and low cognition. Because it stays in the body, children can also become exposed through breast milk.
Small-mouth bass remain one of the most popular species among anglers.