Impacts on wildlife

There is hardly an animal on earth that has not been exposed to a cocktail of toxic man-made chemicals. They are the undeserving recipients of our poisons.
The picture that is emerging from new scientific research on wildlife and chemicals is a disturbing one, and it does little to reassure us that chemical effects are benign.

Here are just some of the effects on wildlife:
      
Birds - Hundreds of pet birds are estimated to be killed each year by the fumes and particles emitted from Teflon-coated products.

Otters and mink - widespread declines of Great Lakes mink, Canadian otter and other species have been recorded in North America and western Europe. PCBs and dioxins are suspected, and studies of farmed and laboratory mink provide supporting evidence.

Dolphins - PFOS, classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a cancer-causing chemical, has been found in dolphins and tuna in the Mediterranean and in sea eagles and salmon in the Baltic. In one test for this chemical conducted in 1979, it was given to monkeys and killed them all within weeks.

Fish - Chemical pollution can cause hormone disruption. The best-known effect is the feminising of male fish, which start producing eggs in their testes.

Crustaceans - brominated flame retardants are highly toxic to crustaceans. They have also been found in sperm whales and, recently, in the eggs of peregrine falcons.

Caimans - Bisphenol A, used to make plastic bottles and many other plastic products, caused sex reversals in broad-snouted caiman - an alligator native to South America. It has also caused reproductive malformations in quail and chicken embryos.
Mammals such as harbour porpoises and North Sea seals have impaired immune systems caused by ... / ©: WWF-Canon /  Jan Van De Kam
Mammals such as harbour porpoises and North Sea seals have impaired immune systems caused by industrial chemicals. Some scientists believe this was a factor in the recent large-scale seal deaths in the North Sea.
© WWF-Canon / Jan Van De Kam

What you can do

Toxic chemicals - the hidden travellers

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel Terrettaz
If summer sea ice continues to melt at its current rate, polar bears and some ice-dwelling seals would die out.
© WWF-Canon / Michel Terrettaz
Surprisingly, animals in the Arctic can be subject to very high levels of pollution - one reason being the fact that air and water currents carry contaminants from the south.
Svalbard polar bears in the Norwegian Arctic, through their diet of seals, have been found to absorb very high levels of contaminants, such as PCBs. Females have lower levels because they pass the toxins on to their young through their fat-rich milk. PCBs reduce the ability of the immune system of Svalbard bears to combat common infections such as influenza, reo and herpes viruses.

New chemical threats are also emerging as toxic substances which impact the immune system, disrupt brain development and affect co-ordination also begin to appear in the arctic food chain.

Find out more about how chemicals reach the Arctic (Flash required)

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