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Natural or Synthetic? Test reveals origin of chemicals in blubber

Natural compounds akin to synthetic flame retardants wend their way up marine food chains and accumulate in whale blubber, researchers have found. It's the first time that scientists have used a new radiocarbon-dating method to determine whether potentially troublesome chemicals in the environment are of natural or synthetic origin.

The oceans contain thousands of naturally occurring organic compounds that incorporate the halogen atoms chlorine and bromine. Used by organisms for such purposes as self-defense, some of these halogenated chemicals have become valuable drugs, while others are harmful to people.

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