Wastewater dilution index partially explains observed polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardant concentrations in osprey eggs from Columbia River Basin, 2008-2009

Ecotoxicology. 2011 Jun;20(4):682-97. doi: 10.1007/s10646-011-0608-2. Epub 2011 Feb 22.


Several polybrominated biphenyl ether (PBDE) congeners were found in all 175 osprey (Pandion haliaetus) eggs collected from the Columbia River Basin between 2002 and 2009. ΣPBDE concentrations in 2008-2009 were highest in osprey eggs from the two lowest flow rivers studied; however, each river flowed through relatively large and populous metropolitan areas (Boise, Idaho and Spokane, Washington). We used the volume of Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) discharge, a known source of PBDEs, as a measure of human activity at a location, and combined with river flow (both converted to millions of gallons/day) created a novel approach (an approximate Dilution Index) to relate waterborne contaminants to levels of these contaminants that reach avian eggs. This approach provided a useful understanding of the spatial osprey egg concentration patterns observed. Individual osprey egg concentrations along the Upper Willamette River co-varied with the Dilution Index, while combined egg data (geometric means) from rivers or segments of rivers showed a strong, significant relationship to the Dilution Index with one exception, the Boise River. There, we believe osprey egg concentrations were lower than expected because Boise River ospreys foraged perhaps 50-75% of the time off the river at ponds and lakes stocked with fish that contained relatively low ΣPBDE concentrations. Our limited temporal data at specific localities (2004-2009) suggests that ΣPBDE concentrations in osprey eggs peaked between 2005 and 2007, and then decreased, perhaps in response to penta- and octa-PBDE technical mixtures no longer being used in the USA after 2004. Empirical estimates of biomagnification factors (BMFs) from fish to osprey eggs were 3.76-7.52 on a wet weight (ww) basis or 4.37-11.0 lipid weight. Our earlier osprey study suggested that ΣPBDE egg concentrations >1,000 ng/g ww may reduce osprey reproductive success. Only two of the study areas sampled in 2008-2009 contained individual eggs with ΣPBDE concentrations >1,000 ng/g, and non-significant (P > 0.30) negative relationships were found between ΣPBDEs and reproductive success. Additional monitoring is required to confirm not only the apparent decline in PBDE concentrations in osprey eggs that occurred during this study, but also to better understand the relationship between PBDEs in eggs and reproductive success.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Eagles / metabolism*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Flame Retardants / analysis
  • Flame Retardants / metabolism*
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / metabolism*
  • Oregon
  • Ovum / metabolism*
  • Rivers / chemistry
  • Washington
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid / methods
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / statistics & numerical data


  • Flame Retardants
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical