Adélie penguin colonies as indicators of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in East Antarctica

Chemosphere. 2020 Jul:250:126320. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2020.126320. Epub 2020 Feb 24.


While persistent organic pollutant (POP) contamination within Antarctica is largely caused by long-range atmospheric transport (LRAT), Antarctic research bases have been shown to be local sources of POPs such as brominated flame retardants (BFRs). This study compared concentrations of seven polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) congeners and five novel flame retardants (NBFRs) found in Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) colony soils near the Australian research stations, Mawson and Davis, to assess the stations as local sources of these contaminants and provide a much needed baseline for contamination of BFRs in East Antarctica. Soil samples (n = 46) were collected from Adélie colonies at close proximity to the research stations as well as further afield during the 2016-17 austral summer. Samples were analysed using selective pressurised liquid extraction (S-PLE) and gas chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS). PBDEs (BDE-28, -47, -99, -100, -153, -154 and -183) were detected in 45/46 samples with ∑7PBDE concentrations ranging from <0.01 to 1.63 ng/g dry weight (dw) and NBFRs (2,3,4,5,6-pentabromotoluene (PBT), 2,3,4,5,6-pentabromoethylbenzene (PBEB), hexabromobenzene (HBB), 2-ethylhexyl-2,3,4,5-tetrabromobenzoate (EH-TBB) and bis(2,4,6-tribromophenoxy) ethane (BTBPE)) detected in 20/46 samples, with a range of ∑5NBFR from not detected (ND) to 0.16 ng/g dw. Soils taken from around the Davis and Mawson research stations were more highly contaminated (n = 10) than penguin colonies (n = 27) and control areas not affiliated with breeding seabirds (n = 8). The most common congener detected was BDE-99, reflecting inputs from LRAT. However, the congener profiles of station soils supported the hypothesis that research stations are a local source of PBDEs to the Antarctic environment. In addition, the NBFR pentabromoethylbenzene (PBEB) was quantified for the first time in Antarctic soils, providing essential information for baseline contamination within the region and highlighting the need for ongoing monitoring as global regulations for the use of BFRs continuously change.

Keywords: Antarctica; Brominated flame retardants (BFRs); Penguin colony soils; Persistent organic pollutants (POPs); Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antarctic Regions
  • Australia
  • Bromobenzenes
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Flame Retardants / analysis
  • Flame Retardants / metabolism*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / metabolism
  • Halogenation
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls
  • Soil / chemistry
  • Spheniscidae / metabolism*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • 2,2',4,4',5-brominated diphenyl ether
  • Bromobenzenes
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Flame Retardants
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls
  • Soil
  • tribromodiphenyl ether 28
  • hexabromobenzene