Who’s afraid of bromine?


Bromine looks sinister – like something you might find on Dr Frankenstein’s workbench. But are people sometimes too hard on compounds made from element 35 of the periodic table?

As you read this article, you are probably surrounded by bromine – in the chair or sofa you are sitting on. In the carpet on your floor, the curtains at your window, perhaps even the walls of your house. And in the computer whose screen you are staring at.

All these things are likely to contain unnatural substances such as polybrominated diphenyl ether or hexabromocyclododecane. Bromine-based chemicals have also found their way into food and drinking water – indeed until recently they were added to drinks like Fanta and Gatorade.

Some of these chemicals have been shown to be dangerous to human health, and have been banned or withdrawn. Yet the bromine industry claims it is the victim of “chemophobia” – an irrational public prejudice against chemicals borne out of ignorance and misinformation.

Bromine saves lives, they point out.

There is no denying that pure bromine is extremely unpleasant. It derives its name from the Greek for “stench”, and it is a particularly vicious material – just ask Andrea Sella of University College London.

“When I was at school nobody had warned me about how nasty this stuff was,” the chemistry professor ruefully recalls, as he pours some of the toxic red liquid into a beaker, where it sits under a smog-like haze of heavy brown vapour.

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“I managed to spill a bit of bromine liquid on to the back of my hand, and it burned through the skin and left a long scab that took weeks to heal.”

Bromine is one of the halogens – the group of four elements that occupy the penultimate column of the periodic table. And it is probably the least well known – chlorine we know from swimming pools, iodine from antiseptics, and fluorine from toothpaste.

Being a halogen, bromine atoms are one electron short of a complete outer shell, which makes them highly reactive, readily bonding with other atoms. That is why pure bromine is so dangerous to handle, and also why you never come across it in nature.

Instead, bromine is commonly found in highly un-reactive bromide salts – in much the same way that the poisonous green gas chlorine is commonly found in boring sodium chloride, table salt.

To illustrate the point, Andrea drops some aluminium foil into his beaker of bromine. It bursts into intense flames. When the fire burns out, all that is left is a residue of aluminium and bromide salts.

It was from naturally occurring salt waters that two chemists independently discovered bromine two centuries ago – the German Carl Jacob Lowig from mineral water in 1825, and the Frenchman Antoine Balard from salt marsh seaweeds in 1826. Both used chlorine gas to displace the bromine atoms from their salt solutions, producing the characteristic acrid fumes of the new element.

Today, bromine is extracted on an industrial scale from salt lakes that are especially rich in the element, above all the Dead Sea.

“The Dead Sea has the highest concentration in the world of bromine,” says Ilan Elkan of Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL) at the company’s bromine facility, the world’s biggest. “This is the gift of nature. Like Saudi Arabia has the gift of oil, we have the gift of bromine.” He claims it will last thousands of years, far longer than Middle Eastern oil.

ICL draws water down from the Dead Sea into a vast network of evaporation ponds that use the sun’s energy to concentrate the minerals. The thickened brines then flow through a series of chemical works that extract potash, magnesium metal and chlorine from the salts – and bromine.

Much of this toxic end-product is then shipped all over the world in gigantic lead-lined tanks – Ilan insists they have never had a spillage. Yet, as hazardous to human health as elemental bromine is, it is actually the products it goes into that have caused the real alarm.

The earliest use of bromine was in medicines. Some bromide salts, notably potassium bromide, were found to be natural sedatives, and were prescribed in the 19th Century as a remedy for epilepsy.

However, they had a curious side-effect. They dampened the libido, which only reinforced the common misconception at the time that epilepsy was brought on by excessive masturbation. This side-effect also lies behind the urban myth that bromide was added to the tea of prisoners and World War I soldiers in order to reduce sexual urges.

For most of the 20th Century, the main use of bromine was something now known to have been seriously damaging to public health. When lead first started being added to petrol to improve engine performance, it was found that deposits built up, eventually clogging the engine.

The solution was to add brominated chemicals to the petrol. As the fuel burnt, the bromine combined with the lead, producing lead bromide. This readily passed out through the exhaust, but of course then proceeded to spread the poisonous heavy metal throughout our cities.

Leaded – and brominated – petrol is no more. But the biggest modern use of bromine, accounting for 41% of the market, has also sparked controversy.

“Imagine you’re watching your television, and halfway through a soccer game your TV catches fire,” says ICL’s deputy president Anat Tal at their head office in Beersheva, southern Israel. “You have three minutes of escape time. What do you do? You just run!

“Now imagine the escape time is five-to-10 times more, because inside your TV is a brominated flame retardant. This is the story of flame retardants.”

A fire is a self-perpetuating chemical reaction in which the high temperature encourages fuel to combine with oxygen in the air, further raising the temperature in the process. Bromine disrupts this chemical reaction. Because the bromine is itself so hyper-reactive, in effect it cue-jumps the oxygen and re-bonds with the fuel, rendering it inert.

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Brominated flame retardants crop up in a surprising number of places. From a bag, Anat produces, Mary Poppins-style, a series of products – white beads that are mixed into the plastic casings and circuit-boards of TVs and computers, fluffy yellow pillow stuffing that refuses to catch fire, and blue polystyrene bricks that are used as cavity wall insulation in homes.

So what’s the problem with these products?

Well, take for example, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which used to be widely used to prevent materials from melting. No longer. “It’s pretty dangerous if it gets into the human body,” explains chemical industry analyst Laura Syrett of Industrial Minerals. “It can cause cancer, developmental disorders, thyroid problems.”

Or how about hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) – the chemical in Anat’s blue cavity wall insulation. It is set to be banned in the EU next year, after an academic study in Texas in 2012 found that tiny amounts of the stuff were getting into some supermarket foods.

The retardants are organic molecules – an entirely different class of chemical from bromide salts – that can take years to decompose. And although they should be tied up inside plastics and other materials, when they do get free they tend to accumulate through the food chain – meaning top predators such as humans face a particular risk of these chemicals slowly building up in our bodies.

This highlights an unavoidable problem for the chemicals industry – much of what they do is still a learning process, and it often takes many years for the long-term risks inherent in a particular product to emerge. Yet it is also important to get these risks in perspective. So far, there are no known cases of brominated fire retardants actually causing anyone major health problems – they are being banned because of the potential hazard they pose. Meanwhile, these chemicals have undoubtedly saved people from the very real risk of burning to death in their own homes, although there is some dispute whether that amounts to the thousands per year claimed by the industry.

But Laura Syrett says the industry also labours under another problem – “chemophobia”.

As an example she cites brominated vegetable oil or BVO, which was commonly added as an emulsifier in soft drinks such as Fanta and Gatorade. Without BVO or a substitute, the orange colour would gravitate to the bottom of your bottle, leaving the top half clear. Something similar would happen to the flavour.

In 2013 Buzzfeed published an article with the title “8 Foods We Eat In The U.S. That Are Banned In Other Countries”. The list included BVO – banned in the EU and Japan – which it claimed was “linked to major organ system damage, birth defects, growth problems, schizophrenia, and hearing loss”.

Pepsi and Coca Cola insisted BVO was safe. Nonetheless, a petition on Change.org gathered 200,000 signatures, and both companies have since stopped using the chemical.

Was the campaign against BVO rational? The chemistry blogger Derek Lowe points out that the few people known to have suffered health problems (none of which were quite like those listed by Buzzfeed) were drinking a vast amount of BVO-containing drinks – in the order of two to four litres per day.

Another controversial case, according to Laura Syrett, is connected with fracking. In 2011, tests of drinking water wells in Pennsylvania found increased levels of bromide salts – the same kind of stuff that supposedly makes people prefer an early night with a hot water bottle – linked to fracking activity at the Marcellus shale deposit.

Bromide salts are widely used in oil and gas drilling. Being near the bottom of the periodic table, bromine atoms are heavy. Dissolve its salts in water and you get an exceptionally heavy brine that can be used to stabilise high pressure wells and stop them collapsing.

In the end, an error was found in the Marcellus tests – in reality only one well showed elevated bromide levels, not seven as originally reported. One case, Syrett suggests, is a long way from proving a causal connection.

At ICL, Anat complains that her company hears via the media and NGOs “almost on a daily basis… all kinds of things that are not scientifically proven”. Meanwhile, she points out, tourists are happy to come and bathe in the Dead Sea, with the world’s highest concentration of bromide at 0.5%, because of its “healthy” mineral salts.

The criticisms sting for an industry that feels it is actually doing a lot of good for the world. Besides fire retardants, one of the biggest new uses of bromine is in capturing mercury in the coal burned in power stations – in much the same way that it used to capture lead in the petrol burned in your car engine, except that this time it actually helps to stop the emission of a poisonous metal into the air.

As Anat laments: “The bromine industry has not done a very good job in PR, in educating people that there are chemicals there that save your life and keep you safe.”

It certainly does not help that so many of the chemicals they produce have such terrifyingly long and alien names… polybrominated diphenyl ether and hexabromocyclododecane, for example.

To put it another way, who would drink coffee if they knew it contained 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione (caffeine)? Especially if you added a spoonful of ((2R,3R,4S,5S,6R)-2-[(2S,3S,4S,5R)-3,4-dihydroxy-2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)oxapent-2-yl]oxy-6-(hydroxymethyl)oxahexane-3,4,5-triol) – better known as sugar?

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Radical Kenya madrassa closed

Police said the profiling of terror suspects found some of them had attended the Machakos madrassa

The authorities in Kenya have closed a madrassa – or religious school – for teaching radical Islamic ideologies.

The school in Machakos, about 65km (40 miles) from the capital, was targeted after local youths were detained on suspicion of joining Somali militants.

It is the first Kenyan madrassa to be closed because of allegedly extremist teachings. A police chief warned that others could follow.

Somalia’s al-Shabab group has carried out a series of attacks in Kenya.

The al-Qaeda affiliate says they are in revenge for the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia and the killing of Muslims.

A year ago, 67 people were killed when the group’s fighters laid siege to the upmarket Westgate shopping centre in the capital, Nairobi.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka told the BBC the decision had been taken to close the Daarul-Irashad centre, which opened in 1997, on the advice of the police’s CID, anti-terror and intelligence units.

The recent arrest in the Machakos area of 21 young men suspected of being recruited for al-Shabab first raised suspicions, he said.

The police then profiled suspects arrested in other terror crackdowns and found that others had passed through that madrassa, the spokesman said.

The head of the madrassa, Farqan Chacha, told the BBC the school was challenging the closure in court.

He confirmed that all pupils at the school, which offers three-month courses for new converts, had been sent home.

The BBC’s Abdullahi Abdi in Nairobi says Machakos is a large town south-east of the capital with a minority Muslim population that has not been subject to any attacks.

Thai tuna firm nets Norwegian rival

The ‘Chicken of the Sea’ brand is popular in North America

The world’s biggest producer of canned tuna, Thai Union Frozen Products, is buying Norwegian seafood firm King Oscar, for an undisclosed sum.

Thai Union, which owns the ‘John West’ and ‘Chicken of the Sea’ brands, is looking to increase earnings overseas to offset slowing sales at home.

The purchase comes days after it bought French smoked salmon producer MerAlliance, for an undisclosed amount.

The deal is expected to close later this year pending regulatory approvals.

Now we will be part of one of the strongest seafood companies in the world”

Thai Union president and chief executive Thiraphong Chansiri called it a “relatively small, but highly strategic acquisition for our group”.

“It will give us a unique position and an opportunity to build ‘King Oscar’ brand in the market worldwide and into our global brand portfolio,” he said in a statement.

“In addition to organic growth, mergers and acquisitions will continue to be the company’s key strategy for business expansion in both short and long term.”

Thai Union said it was aiming to increase sales to $8bn (£4.9bn) by 2020 following the purchase of King Oscar, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of canned fish such as premium-quality sardines.

King Oscar has two factories in Poland and Norway that help churn out 90 million cans per year. The privately-owned company logged sales worth $80m last year.

Geir-Arne Asnes, chief executive of King Oscar said the deal marked an “expansive phase” for the brand globally.

“Now we will be part of one of the strongest seafood companies in the world,” he said.

Decision due on comet landing site

The 10-billion-tonne target: No space mission has ever made a soft landing on a comet

The European Space Agency is about to release more details of its audacious bid to try to land on a comet.

Since early August, its Rosetta probe has been in close proximity to 67P/C-G – a 10-billion-tonne mass of ice and dust some 400 million km from Earth.

Engineers and scientists have spent the weekend debating where on the surface it might be possible to put down a small contact robot.

Esa is expected to announce its primary and reserve choices on Monday.

Whichever site is chosen will be extremely challenging.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is highly irregular in shape, with a terrain that is marked by deep depressions and towering cliffs.

Even the apparently flat surfaces contain potentially hazardous boulders and fractures.

The plan still is to make the attempt on 11 November.

Rosetta will despatch the piggybacked Philae robot from a distance of about 10km to 67P.

The spider-like device will hope to engage the surface at “walking pace deploying screws and harpoons in an effort to lock itself down.

It will be a one shot opportunity. The event will take place so far from Earth that real-time radio control will be impossible.

Instead, the process will have to be fully automated with commands uploaded several days in advance.

To successfully soft-land on a comet would be a first in the history of space exploration.

But Esa cautions that this high-risk venture should be seen as an exciting extra on the Rosetta mission

The major objective from the outset has really been to catch the comet with the Rosetta probe and to study it from orbit.

This is happening right now. In the past few days, Rosetta manoeuvred to within 30km of 67P close enough to be gravitationally bound to the “ice mountain

The spacecraft’s array of remote-sensing instruments are currently investigating the comet’s properties, endeavouring to find out how the object is constructed and from what materials.

Everything we’ve discovered at 67P/C-G so far says that we’ve chosen a fantastic comet to visit said Dr Christopher Carr, a principal investigator on the Rosetta Plasma Consortium instruments

There’s a genuine sense of excitement within the Rosetta community, and we’re all looking forward to the year ahead

No spacecraft has ever orbited an active comet before, so there’s a lot to learn about spacecraft and instrument operations, but we’ve got a really robust mission carrying some of the best instrumentation possible, and I have to say that the operations teams at the European Space Agency are doing a great job – they are true professionals,” the Imperial College London scientist told BBC News.

But, of course, an in-situ analysis of the surface chemistry would be a huge boon to the mission overall, and this is what Philae aims to provide.

It will carry a drill to pull up comet samples into an onboard laboratory.

The long-list of five Rosetta candidate landing sites

Scientists and engineers went into their weekend deliberations in Toulouse, France, with a long-list of five potential landing sites.

In reducing that number to two, they will have assessed the very latest imagery to be downlinked from Rosetta.

And they will continue to study the pictures in the run-up to the final go/no-go decision on the landing site, which is expected in mid-October.

Irrespective of the outcome on 11 November, Rosetta will continue to follow 67P for at least a year.

The probe will get a grandstand view of the comet as it warms on a swing around the Sun.

67P’s ices will vaporise, throwing jets of gas and an immense cloud of dust out into space

Anger grows amid flood disaster

Many homes and key buildings in Srinagar remain submerged

There is mounting anger in Indian-administered Kashmir amid accusations that the government has acted too slowly in the flood crisis.

Crowds of people displaced by the floods are protesting at the lack of help from authorities, as Andrew North reports

The BBC’s Simon Atkinson in Srinagar reports that the road to the city’s airport remains under water and on streets which are passable, convoys of lorries packed with groups of men gathering water, food and firewood have become a common sight.

He adds that the water levels of Dal lake, Srinagar’s tourist centre famous for its British colonial-era houseboats, continues to rise despite the rain easing over the last few days.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the region are still thought to be stranded.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said he understood the anger of the people in the wake of this unprecedented catastrophe

But he dismissed criticism of the government’s handling of the flood crisis, saying: “Our entire effort has been focused on ensuring that we have adequate assets to rescue people

In Pakistan authorities are monitoring the rising levels of the river Chenab, with plans in place to blow the embankment at two strategic places in order to protect the city of Multan.

Multan, one of Pakistan’s largest cities, is in Punjab province which has been taking the brunt of the rain and flooding in Pakistan in recent days

One spot that could be breached is an embankment north of the city which would prevent waters from destroying a crucial bridge and overrunning the eastern part of Multan. This would mean the evacuation of some 8,000 people living along the river

The second point is south of the city but the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says these are all difficult decisions for the authorities as the breaches could affect parts of a military cantonment, a major oil refinery, an industrial estate or even parts of Muzaffargarh city, which has been put on high alert.

On Monday the authorities breached another strategic dyke in flood-affected Punjab to ease pressure on flood defences downstream and protect urban areas.

More than 700,000 villagers have been forced to flee their homes. Much of the water is reaching Pakistan from Indian-administered Kashmir, where flood levels are now falling.

Floods caused by monsoon rains are an annual event in South Asia and a series of dams on major rivers are aimed at protecting urban areas in particular from being hit by floods.

In pictures Ocean colour scenes

The Giant and the Fisherman

A new festival showcasing short films shot at locations in the world’s seas and oceans will come to Scotland as part of a UK tour.

The International Ocean Film Festival will visit the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh on 25 September and Inverness’ Eden Court on 27 September.

The short films run from three to 26 minutes long.

They include The Giant and The Fisherman, which shows a friendship that has developed between fishermen and whale sharks

Rather than hunting what are the world’s biggest fish, the men believe the massive filter feeders are a symbol of good luck

Riders to the Sea tells of a surfing duel between a male and female surfer off Ireland’s west coast.

The festival’s organisers have described it as a “quirky short is filled with breaking waves

Another of the films, Sportlife Saga: Water, follows world champion free-diver Guillaume Nery.

A world-record holder, Mr Nery can reach depths of more than 100m (328ft) and can stay below the surface for more than seven minutes at a time.

Diving is also the subject of Haenyeo: Women of The Sea.

The 12 minutes long film is about haenyeo, or female free-divers, who for generations and over centuries have collected seafood off Jeju Island, in South Korea.

The women work without the aid of scuba equipment.

People Under the Sea looks at the placing of 400 statues on a seabed in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Mexico.

The statues are the work of artist Jason Taylor

And Then We Swam is about two friends’ ill-fated attempt to row across the Indian Ocean in a second-hand boat in May 2011.

Survival is also the theme of Alive: Out of Air which was shot by filmmaker Adam Ravetch during an expedition to the Arctic which almost cost him his life

Duct Tape Surfing shows the efforts of Pascale Honore to realise her dreams of surfing following a car accident that left her paralysed from the waist down

Her sons’ friend Tyron Swan, a big wave surfer and professional diver, takes her out surfing while she is taped up to his back.

Till the Luck Runs Dry was shot on a headland on the north coast of Cornwall and documents an artist’s work to create large scale beach drawings on sand

Variables with Kimi Werner follows a woman who grew up in Maui, Hawaii’s second-largest island, and her exploration of her place in the tropical ecosystem.

Clyde mascot to be sold for Unicef

The Unicef Clyde was one of 25 mascots that made up the Clyde Trail during the Games

A statue of Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games mascot Clyde is to be sold to raise funds for the United Nations children’s charity, Unicef.

The statue, which carries the Unicef logo, was one of 25 designed by Glasgow schoolchildren that were displayed at sites across the city during the Games.

The fibreglass model is the only one being sold to help raise cash for Unicef’s Put Children First fund.

An appeal launched at the start of the Games raised £5m for the Unicef fund.

Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson said: “Part of the lasting legacy of this partnership is the £5m raised during the 11-day sporting spectacular.

“On behalf of the city, I am delighted that Glasgow City Council is donating Unicef Clyde to Unicef so that he will be given a new home and that the funds raised for the Put Children First appeal will benefit children around the Commonwealth in a range of ways.”

Unicef’s Commonwealth Games project director, Tom Burstow, said the organisation was “immensely grateful” for the backing it had received.

“With this latest support from Glasgow City Council we will be able to save and transform even more children’s lives across the Commonwealth and in Scotland,” he said.

“The generosity of the people of Glasgow and beyond has helped us achieve something never done before. Together we have shown that we can, and will, always Put Children First.”

The 25 Clyde statues were located at various locations around Glasgow during the Games period to form Clyde’s Trail.

Glasgow City Council is looking at sites for the other 24 statues and has promised that they will remain on show to the public.

Taking your one shot

What if you went into work tomorrow knowing that the project you’re working on that day would define your whole career and maybe your life?

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Carl, this is your opportunity. You know there are no guarantees, nor would you want a guarantee if one were offered. You want an adventure and a memorable experience. Isn’t that what life, and boxing, is all about

As for the fighter himself, he is single-minded and insists he will remain calm in spite of the crescendo of noise all around him

Once I’m in there I’m not worried about the crowd. It’s just me and him. I had my first fight when I was seven, so I’m more than ready to take the title. I’m not going to let anyone take my dream from me he says

As Frampton’s dream world title shot gets under way, could it be one concussive shot from the hard-punching Belfast fighter that closes the show, allowing him to realise a 20 year dream?

BP guilty of gross negligence

The 2010 explosion and subsequent oil spill cost 11 workers their lives and was the worst in US history

( bursa escort ) – -A US judge has ruled BP was grossly negligent in the lead-up to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The ruling could potentially cost BP billions more in compensation payments.

The New Orleans judge Carl Barbier also found BP subcontractors Transocean and Halliburton “negligent”.

The 2010 oil spill was the worst in US history, and BP has set aside $43bn (£26bn) to cover fines, legal settlements, and clean-up costs.

BP said in a statement that it strongly disagrees with the ruling and that it would appeal to a higher court.

The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case, said the firm

Shares in BP fell 6% after the ruling was announced.

Judge Barbier said BP should shoulder 67% of the blame for the 2010 spill, with drilling rig owner Transocean responsible for 30% and cement firm Halliburton responsible for 3%.

He ruled that BP will be “subject to enhanced civil penalties” due to its “gross negligence” and “wilful misconduct”.

The ruling could quadruple the civil penalties that BP must pay as a result of the spill to an estimated $18bn.

Under the US Clean Water Act, a ruling of negligence would have meant BP was liable to pay $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled; gross negligence increases the penalty to $4,300 per barrel.

In its most recent annual report, BP said it had set aside $3.5bn for this case – an indication the firm had expected a more lenient ruling.

BP emphasised in its statement that it planned to argue during penalty proceedings for the lesser penalty.

In 2012, BP agreed to accept criminal responsibility for the disaster and agreed to pay $4.5bn to the US government, thus settling its criminal liability in the spill.

Now, legal efforts have focused on the amount of civil penalties the firm must pay, both to businesses and individuals affected by the spill and to cover environmental clean-up costs.

Also in 2012, BP reached a $9.2bn civil settlement and agreed to put $20bn into a trust to pay to businesses and individuals.

However, legal proceedings have continued after BP said it had been forced to pay compensation to some businesses and individuals who were not directly affected.

It is not clear what impact Judge Barbier’s ruling will have on the legal wrangling over that settlement fund.

A date to determine the total number of barrels of oil that were spilled in 2010 as well as a final civil penalty has not yet been announced.

US government experts have estimated a total of 4.2 million barrels spilled into the Gulf; BP has said the figure is closer to 2.45 million

Smile please, but hold your breath

Bride and groom-to-be having their wedding photos taken underwater

China’s wedding market is worth $130bn a year

In a suburb of Shanghai, a shabby old textile mill serves as a model of the wider economic transformation China is trying to achieve.

Where once low-wage workers churned out clothes for export, today a new company has taken up residence that is riding the wave of China’s consumer spending boom.

In fact Mr Wedding – a small business employing 16 people – is part of an industry that has been booming like few others anywhere in history.

According to state media, China’s marriage market – the money spent on ceremonies, catering, honeymoons and hospitality – has grown from almost nothing a couple of decades ago to a whopping annual 800bn yuan ($130bn; £78bn).

And Mr Wedding, from its old factory base, is trying to carve out a little slice of that economy by offering Shanghai’s brides-and-grooms-to-be a familiar service with a twist.

“People can do a lot of almost impossible postures under water,” the founder and owner, Tina Liu, tells me.

“The sense of losing gravity creates the beauty of floating.”

Underwater wedding: In pictures

Two of her customers Lin Enxiao and He Huan introduce themselves by their English names – Lamea and YY.

They’re not getting married until next year, but like many Chinese couples they’ve decided to get the wedding photographs out of the way early.

“Most of our friends did their photo shoot on dry land,” YY tells me. “We wanted something different.”

“When people think about wedding photos it’s always grassland, white walls and doves,” Lamea agrees.

“It feels good to change that picture.”

China did not invent the underwater wedding shoot but it has embraced it like nowhere else.

There are dozens of studios offering the service in Shanghai alone, and it is a crowded, competitive market.

“Some talented people have a good concept and good creativity but they don’t make it because they lack persistency,” Tina says.

Each individual photo shoot is a painstaking, time-consuming process.

Mr Wedding’s team of stylists gives Lamea and YY a full makeover, spending a couple of hours on their hair and make-up.

“We suggest that for underwater wedding pictures brides should wear a white wedding dress with a long trail,” Tina says.

“And we use waterproof make-up so it doesn’t run in the water.”

Then, Lamea and YY, dressed for a full white wedding, are walked not down an aisle but up a small set of steps into the photography tank.

Measuring around 12ft by 12 ft (3.6m by 3.6m) – it is full of warm water with a lifeguard on hand to help them climb in and to accompany them throughout their time in the water.

Tina shouts instructions into a microphone from the other side of the tank’s glass window and, taking a deep breath, Lamea and YY slip beneath the water and their wedding shoot is underway.

Tina started her business in 2003, at that point doing only traditional wedding photography, with an initial investment of 150,000 yuan.

She worked out of a small shop and used Shanghai’s picturesque streetscapes as the backdrop for the photos as she had no studio of her own.

The decision to move out of the city centre, although it gave her space to expand and to build the water tank, presented a major challenge.

“Here, we are quite far away from where most people work so we lost a lot of customers,” she says.

“People used to fight for a vacancy but suddenly our schedule board was blank. I felt depressed and even started to doubt the quality of my work.

“But it was useless to stay in that mood so we started addressing the internal problems, getting the teamwork right, and slowly the business came back up again.”

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Today, Tina says, the it brings in a revenue of between 400,000 and 500,000 yuan a month.

But like small business owners everywhere she needs to stay constantly on her toes.

“The photography industry has reached a peak,” the China Wedding Trade Association’s Secretary General, Shi Kangming, tells me.

“Many famous studios have closed,” he says, “and fewer young couples want wedding photos nowadays.”

In 2009, he says, his organisation’s figures show that around 90% of marrying couples booked the services of a wedding photographer.

Today the figure is down to just 70% – an extraordinary drop-off that highlights the fast changing pace of the industry.

But with more than 10 million couples tying the knot every year there’s still plenty of opportunity for those who can adapt.

We’re launching a new project we call ‘air filming  Tina tells me.

She describes how they attach a movie camera to a small remote control drone so that aerial shots can be taken of the couple, who remain firmly on the ground.

People will feel the product is beautiful and amazing, and although they might not be sure about it, they’ll want to try when they see other people’s results she says.

The company is also introducing stop-motion animation in the form of a flipbook style photograph album.

Lamea and YY have no hesitation in paying the 2,000 yuan ($325; £200) price tag for their set of 15 underwater wedding photos.

They’re delighted with the results.

“You only get married once in your life,” Lamea says, “so you should spend money on what’s needed.”

“We started preparing a long time ago,” YY adds. “We’ve been saving half of our income and putting it into our wedding fund for all the necessary things we’ll be needing.”