Pesky pollutants that persist, courtesy of nature

In the late 1970s, the United States banned the production of an assortment of synthetic pesticides, insulators, coolants and flame retardants due to their toxicity and the fact that they stick around for a long time. But according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, nature makes compounds similar to these toxic human-made substances - and that could be a concern.

In the 1930s, a class of known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) was widely used for its diverse applications in commercial products. But evidence that the substances could cause harm mounted, which resulted in the U.S. ban on their production in 1979. In parallel, scientists were discovering that certain bacteria, fungi, plants and aquatic organisms naturally made compounds similar to PCBs and other phased out chemicals, including the pesticide DDT and PBDEs. Now, as C&EN Contributing Editor Deirdre Lockwood reports, researchers are using a variety of techniques to determine whether organic pollutants they find in the environment are natural or synthetic in origin, which organisms are making them and for what purposes.

Additionally, because these natural organic pollutants resemble known toxic substances, concern is growing that they could be harmful. Some evidence suggests that they are likely making their way through the food chain. Scientists have found trace amounts in humans of hydroxylated PBDEs that are possibly natural in origin. Naturally produced have been detected in pets and pet foods, a finding that is likely related to a seafood-based diet. Now researchers are setting out to learn about the potential toxicity of these natural pollutants.


Explore further

Why your tuna could have 36 times more chemicals than others

More information: cen.acs.org/content/cen/articl … isms-synthesize.html
Citation: Pesky pollutants that persist, courtesy of nature (2017, October 25) retrieved 22 May 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2017-10-pesky-pollutants-persist-courtesy-nature.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
3 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more