The harmful impacts of chemical pollution on UK freshwater and marine wildlife
A new briefing published this week by CHEM Trust and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) highlights the worrying effects that chemical pollution is having on the health of UK freshwater and marine wildlife.
This joint briefing is the result of our investigation of the scientific evidence, based on exchanges with 15 UK academics throughout 2020. The briefing concludes that although there had been a significant decrease in chemical pollution in the last century due to legislative action, these chemicals are still impacting marine and freshwater environments.
Chemical pollution makes wildlife populations and entire ecosystems more vulnerable and less resilient to the stresses of climate change or habitat loss. Read more about hazardous chemicals and their effects on marine wildlife and the environment.
Based on the data available, the main chemical pollution threat identified comes from legacy persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs. Legacy POPs are human made synthetic substances, which didn’t exist before the 20th century, and have been largely phased out globally in the past decades. There is strong evidence of their, sometimes dramatic, impact on marine mammals, and more subtle evidence of their impact on freshwater ecosystems.
In the marine environment, these legacy chemicals, in particular PCBs, have been found to negatively affect the immune system and reproductive system of marine mammals in the UK (e.g. killer whales, harbour porpoises, grey seals). This is a source of concern for the long-term impact of chemical pollution on marine mammal populations, with clear evidence that killer whale populations are in decline.
In freshwater environments, it is thought that these legacy pollutants are preventing certain freshwater species (such as salmon) from fully recovering from dramatic population declines in the 19th and 20th centuries, due to heavy pollution of rivers from industry and urban development.
Read more about the findings from the briefing, as well as CHEM Trust’s and the academics’ views on how to deal with the chemical pollution burden, in our policy blog.