Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in fish tissue may be an indicator of plastic contamination in marine habitats

Chelsea M. Rochman, Rebecca L. Lewison, Marcus Eriksen, Harry Allen, Anna Marie Cook, Swee J Teh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


The accumulation of plastic debris in pelagic habitats of the subtropical gyres is a global phenomenon of growing concern, particularly with regard to wildlife. When animals ingest plastic debris that is associated with chemical contaminants, they are at risk of bioaccumulating hazardous pollutants. We examined the relationship between the bioaccumulation of hazardous chemicals in myctophid fish associated with plastic debris and plastic contamination in remote and previously unmonitored pelagic habitats in the South Atlantic Ocean. Using a published model, we defined three sampling zones where accumulated densities of plastic debris were predicted to differ. Contrary to model predictions, we found variable levels of plastic debris density across all stations within the sampling zones. Mesopelagic lanternfishes, sampled from each station and analyzed for bisphenol A (BPA), alkylphenols, alkylphenol ethoxylates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), exhibited variability in contaminant levels, but this variability was not related to plastic debris density for most of the targeted compounds with the exception of PBDEs. We found that myctophid sampled at stations with greater plastic densities did have significantly larger concentrations of BDE#s 183 -209 in their tissues suggesting that higher brominated congeners of PBDEs, added to plastics as flame-retardants, are indicative of plastic contamination in the marine environment. Our results provide data on a previously unsampled pelagic gyre and highlight the challenges associated with characterizing plastic debris accumulation and associated risks to wildlife.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)622-633
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Apr 1 2014


  • Myctophid
  • Plastic debris
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
  • South Atlantic Gyre

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering


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