BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Researchers from Upstate New York institutions,
including the University at Buffalo, have documented elevated
levels of two industrial pollutants in carp in eastern Lake Erie,
adding to the body of scientific work demonstrating the lasting
environmental effects of human activity and waste disposal on the
The two contaminants the scientists studied were polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), manmade organic compounds once used in products
including motor oils, adhesives, paints, plastics, pigments and
dyes, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a class of
flame-retardants found in common household items including
furniture, personal computers, consumer electronics and drapes.
Both PCBs and PBDEs may disrupt the functions of the endocrine
system, which secretes hormones that regulate bodily processes such
as growth and development, reproduction and response to stress.
The team examined a sample of 18 carp from eastern Lake Erie and
detected both pollutants in all the fish. The greatest
concentration of PBDE the investigators found was just over 100
nanograms per gram of fish lipid -- a relatively low amount.
Concentrations of PCBs were higher, reaching 15,000 nanograms
per gram in the lipid of one specimen. In contrast, 18 "control"
carp from two cleaner New York lakes had no detectable level of
The peer-reviewed journal Chemosphere published the findings in
September, and researchers are now expanding their work to include
a second study on eastern Lake Erie examining PBDE levels in
plankton; sportfish including steelhead, walleye, rainbow trout and
smallmouth bass; and forage fish including emerald shiner, gobies,
yellow perch and smelt.
The goal is to provide knowledge on how PBDEs move through the
food web and bioaccumulate in fish, including both commercial and
invasive species. The measurements researchers collect will provide
baseline data for establishing consumption advisories and better
managing the ecological health of the lake. Though carp are not
common food sources, the new study includes species that fishermen
and consumers eat.
"Many people have documented these pollutants in fish in the
Great Lakes, but most studies that have been done are more on the
western part of Lake Erie and in the other lakes," said Diana Aga,
a UB professor of chemistry and an author of the Chemosphere paper.
"What we're doing here is to document specifically what's happening
in eastern Lake Erie, which is interesting because it can be easily
impacted by industries and human activities in the Buffalo
"We wanted to document what we have now and compare it to other
areas and to the future. If there's any cleaning up in the area,
then whatever remediation is done, we'll be able to see if it has
affected the levels of these chemicals in fish over time," Aga
Alicia Pérez-Fuentetaja, a biologist at Buffalo State
College's Great Lakes Center, led the research on carp, overseeing
an interdisciplinary group of biologists and chemists from UB and
the State University of New York at Cortland.
Pérez-Fuentetaja is also heading the project on plankton and
sportfish, leading a team whose members include Aga, UB graduate
student Susan Mackintosh and Mehran Alaee of Environment Canada in
Ontario. Funding for both studies comes from the Great Lakes
In their Chemosphere paper, Pérez-Fuentetaja, Aga and
co-authors wrote that PCBs and PBDEs "are of concern because they
have the propensity to disrupt the endocrine system, cause
neurobehavioral deficits and possibly cause cancer."
The discovery of high levels of PCBs in carp underscores the
staying power the chemicals have in the environment. A ban on the
production of PCBs has been in place in the U.S. since 1979, but
scientists working in the Great Lakes and elsewhere in the country
have continued to find accumulations of the substance in fish.
And while Pérez-Fuentetaja, Aga and collaborators called
the low levels of PBDE contamination in carp they examined
"encouraging news," they added that the flame retardants still
regularly enter Lake Erie. Therefore, the researchers wrote, "it is
reasonable to expect a future increase of this group of chemicals
in sediment and biota, and continued monitoring is
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.