Persistent organic pollutants: Implications for Antarctic ecosystems

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of scientists and tourists in the Antarctic region, which has led to a significant increase in the anthropogenic footprint in the Antarctic ecosystem. In recent years, several studies have detected macro and microplastics, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) in polar ecosystems. However, regarding POPs and PPCPs, little is known about their presence in organisms along food chains, especially in the phytoplankton community, which is the base of the marine food web.

Tourism in Antarctica. Photograph of Peter Prokosch

In a recent study, young Portuguese scientists used mass spectrophotometry techniques in order to carry out the first screening for the presence of emerging contaminants (such as POPs and PPCPs) in the phytoplankton community of a remote island in Antarctica, which is visited by tourist and scientists, thus providing important information about the human footprint left in these remote ecosystems.

More than 70 persistent pollutants of human origin (including POPs and PPCPs, among others) were detected. Overall, the variety of compounds detected, as well as their uses, may be linked to both terrestrial and marine activities, thus highlighting the anthropogenic contribution to the Antarctic ecosystem. The detection of these compounds at the base of the Antarctic food chain, which can be potentially toxic depending on their concentration, could have very serious implications for the entire trophic structure of the ecosystem, putting the various organisms at risk.

That said, this study emphasizes the knowledge gap that exists regarding the potentially toxic effects that these pollutants can have on the various organisms in the Antarctic food chain. It also emphasizes the need to review the guidelines imposed by the Antarctic Treaty and by the Environmental Protection Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, so that there is a control and/or avoidance of the proliferation of these and other PPCPs in remote environments as unique as is the case of Antarctica.


Source:Duarte, B., Gameiro, C., Matos, A. R., Figueiredo, A., Silva, M. S., Cordeiro, C., Caçador, I., Reis-Santos, P., Fonseca, V., & Cabrita, M. T. (2021). First screening of biocides, persistent organic pollutants, pharmaceutical and personal care products in Antarctic phytoplankton from Deception Island by FT-ICR-MS. Chemosphere, 274, 129860.

Author: Joana Fragão


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