Toxicity of PHOS-CHEK LC-95A and 259F fire retardants to ocean- and stream-type Chinook salmon and their potential to recover before seawater entry

Sci Total Environ. 2014 Aug 15;490:610-21. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.05.038. Epub 2014 Jun 2.


Long-term fire retardants are used to prevent the spread of wildland fire, but have inadvertently entered aquatic habitats and resulted in fish kills. We examined the toxicity of two fire retardant products; PHOS-CHEK 259F and LC-95A, on Chinook salmon with two different life histories, ocean-type and stream-type, at different stages of their development. Ocean-type Chinook outmigrate to the ocean as subyearlings; while, stream-type salmon overwinter in freshwater and outmigrate as yearlings. Ocean-type and stream-type salmon were exposed to the fire retardants prior to their parr to smolt transition (presmolts) as subyearlings (stream-type and ocean-type) and yearlings (stream-type only), as well as during their transition (smolts). The salmon were exposed to eight concentrations of each retardant and a control for 96h to determine acute toxicity. Lethal concentration curves were modeled by logistic regression for each life history and life stage exposed to the two fire retardants. Among all life histories and life stages tested, PHOS-CHEK 259F was most toxic to stream-type salmon at smolt stage and PHOS-CHEK LC-95A was most toxic to ocean-type salmon at smolt stage. To determine the delayed effects of product exposures on fish health as well as for the potential of recovery, 24-hour seawater challenges were performed immediately after fire retardant exposure, as well as after a recovery period. Previous PHOS-CHEK exposure reduced survival during seawater challenge among salmon from both life histories undergoing the parr-smolt transition and was more pronounced after PHOS-CHEK LC-95A exposure. However, this delayed effect was not observed 34 or more days after either PHOS-CHEK exposure. We conclude that accidental PHOS-CHEK LC-95A or 259F drops during salmon outmigration would have adverse impacts that extend beyond the acute mortality that occurs within the immediate drop and dilution areas.

Keywords: Fire retardant; PHOS-CHEK; Salmon; Smoltification; Toxicity; Wildfire.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Ammonium Compounds / metabolism
  • Ammonium Compounds / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Flame Retardants / metabolism
  • Flame Retardants / toxicity*
  • Phosphates / metabolism
  • Phosphates / toxicity*
  • Polyphosphates / metabolism
  • Polyphosphates / toxicity*
  • Rivers / chemistry
  • Salmon / physiology*
  • Seawater / chemistry
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Ammonium Compounds
  • Flame Retardants
  • Phosphates
  • Polyphosphates
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • ammonium phosphate