Between the Second World War and the 1970s millions of tons of chemical weapons and munitions were dumped into the ocean and forgotten. We join the ocean search and weave the stories of people around the world whose lives have been impacted by chemical weapons.
ONE of the highest levels of the toxic pollutant PCB ever recorded has been found in a killer whale that washed up in Scotland last year.
The discovery, revealed by the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme this week, focuses attention on the dangers of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), a chemical known to cause infertility.
The man-made chemical was produced for about 40 years and was used in many different products including plastics, paint and electrical equipment, until the 1970s when its toxic impacts were recognised.
In February scientists even found “extraordinary” levels of the chemical in the most remote and inaccessible place on the planet — the 10km deep Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines.
“The surprise was just how high the levels were — the contamination in the animals was sky high,” UK researcher Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University told The Guardian.
The discovery of extremely high levels of the chemical in an adult orca, known as Lulu has sounded another warning.
The post-mortem on Lulu, who died after getting tangled in ropes, found she never produced a calf and her pod may have been barren.
Some are now concerned that Lulu’s pod, the last one in the UK, is doomed to extinction.
“Lulu’s apparent infertility is an ominous finding — with no new animals being born, it is now looking increasingly likely that this small group will eventually go extinct,” Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme head Andrew Brownlow told The Guardian.
“Given what is known about the toxic effects of PCBs, we have to consider that such a high-pollutant burden could have been affecting her health and reproductive fitness.”
No calf has been spotted with the pod in the 23 years it has been monitored.
Scientists found levels of PCBs in Lulu’s blubber were more than 100 times the limit above which damage to the health of marine mammals is known to occur.
PCBs can cause cancer in humans and suppress the immune system. They are particularly harmful to predators like killer whales because they are at the top of the food chain.
Meanwhile poor waste storage is being blamed for the toxic chemicals continuing to leak into the ocean.
“Once PCBs get into the marine environment, they are difficult if not impossible to remove,” Mr Brownlow has previously said.
“There are still many PCB stockpiles in Europe, and it is absolutely essential that these toxic reserves do not reach the marine environment.”