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Worldwide PCB Pollution

Warnings from wild animals
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ĻPCBs have polluted every place on Earth, and living creatures are also affected. PCB contamination of sea mammals, such as porpoises and whales, and seabirds is very serious since they have very high concentrations of PCBs accumulated in their bodies.

It might be hard to believe that PCBs, which are used on land, are contaminating porpoises and whales that have no connection to industrial activities. But it is estimated that about 35% of PCB wastes have accumulated in coastal sediments and about 60% is dispersed in seawater. This means that the primary eventual destination of PCBs is the ocean.


Estimated PCB Loads in the Global Environment

Environment PCB load (t) Percentage
of PCB load
Persentage of
world production
Terrestrial
and coastal
Air
500
0.13
 
River and
lake water
3,500
0.94
 
Seawater
2,400
0.64
 
Soil
2,400
0.64
 
Sediment
130,000
35
 
Biota
4,300
1.1
 
Total (A)
143,000
39
 
Open ocean
Air
790
0.21
 
Seawater
230,000
61
 
Sedeiment
110
0.03
 
Biota
270
0.07
 
Total (B)
231,000
61
 
Total load in the environment (A+B) 374,000
100 31
Degraded and incinerated 43,000
4
Land-stocked* 783,000   65
World production
1,200,000   100
S. Tanabe (1985). J. Oceanogr. Soc. Japan, 41, 358-70.
*Still in use in electrial eqipment and other products, and deposited in landfills and dump

Pollution of the ocean means that plankton and fish are also polluted. Since PCBs are slow to decompose, they accumulate in the bodies of ocean dwelling creatures, and particularly in those creatures, such as porpoises and whales, that eat large amounts of small creatures, resulting in higher concentrations of PCBs. Mammals in particular have thick layers of fat and PCBs are easily absorbed in body fats, so sea mammals have a tendency to high levels of contamination.

Moreover, it is believed that porpoises and whales are more contaminated than animals on land because of their lower metabolic abilities. In recent years there have been mass seal deaths, and PCBs are suspected as one of the causes. One theory is that PCBs disrupted seals' immune systems, making them vulnerable to viral infections, leading to mass deaths.

We should take these phenomena in the natural world as a serious warning. It will be too late to start taking action after we find similar phenomena in humans.





Comparison of total PCB concentrations (wet wt.)
of PCBs in cetaceans from various regions

Dall's porpoise
Bering Sea
1985 13
Dall's porpoise
North-eastern North Pacific 1987 19
Common dolphin
North-eastern North Pacific 1987 22
Harbour porpoise
Hokkaido, Japan
1993 8
Dall's porpoise
Japan Sea
1989 34
Northern right whale dolphin
Northern North Pacific
1991 30
Pacific white-sided dolphin
Northern North Pacific
1991 27
Striped dolphin
off Sanriku, Japan
1992 37
Fraser's dolphin
off Kii Peninsula, Japan
1991 51
Hump-backed dolphin
Hong Kong
1993-1997 31
Finless porpoise
Hong Kong
1993-1997 20
Spinner dolphin
Mindanao Sea, Philippines
1996 2.5
Fraser's dolphin
Mindanao Sea, Philippines
1996 6.2
Spinner dolphin
Bay of Bengal, India
1990 2.2
Dall's porpoise
Northern North Pacific
1980-1985 8.6
Finless porpoise
Seto island Sea, Japan
1985 320
Baird's beaked whale
Pacific coast of Japan
1985 2.3
Killer whale
Pacific coast of Japan
1986 370
Harbour porpoise
Black Sea
1993 22
Striped dolphin
Western Mediterranean Sea
1990 390
Bottlenose dolphin
Italian coastal waters
1992 590
Risso's dolphin
Italian coastal waters
1992 320
Common porpoise
Puck Bay, Baltic Sea
1989-1990 31
Beluga whale
St. Lawrence river
1987-1990 160
Killer whale
British Columbia coast
1986-1989 22
False killer whale
British Columbia coast
1987-1989 40
Risso's dolphin
British Columbia coast
1988 1.7
Dall's porpoise
British Columbia coast
1987-1988 4.5
Harbour porpoise
British Columbia coast
1987-1989 8.4
Minh et al., (2000)Water Science and Technology, vol. 42, Nos 7-8, 231-240


Photo:Center for Marine Environmental Studies (CMES), Ehime University

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