The concentration of chemicals such as PCB's are over 1 ng/l, even in Antarctica, and are impacting on the health and survival of whales, seals, fish and plankton. The chemicals are adsobed on to hydrophobic surfaces such as microbe cell walls and are then injested. Priority substances are also absorbed by micro-plastics which are then consumbed by invertebrates and fish. In effect there is no safe level, even if the priority substances are below detection level in solution, it will be concentrated on particles and by a process of chain amplification it will reach high concentrations in fish, as well as marine mammals and birds.
Priority chemicals such as PCB's and fire retardants including PBDE impact on primary productivity (plankton growth) and have reduced the ability of the oceans to absorb CO2 by 40% since the 1950's. It is not the industrial revolution, but the chemical revolution that is having the greatest impact.
The pH of the Oceans continues to decline and when it reaches pH7.9 in 25 to 50 years there will be a cascade destabilization of the marine ecosystem which will be followed by the terrestrial ecosystem. The burning of fossil fuels only accounts for 3% of the total CO2 emissions (from IPCC). We know the Oceans absorb between 50% to 80% for the planets CO2, yet we may have lost up to 40% of the capacity to remove CO2. Even if it is just 5% it would still explain the increasing CO2 concentrations.
Serious consequence if there is no action
We have very little data on the concentration and distribution of priority chemicals in the oceans. We don't know the full impact of these chemicals on primary productivity, however even if it is only 5% it is hugely significant. The solution Priority chemicals are derived from industrial and domestic pollution from all countries, we need to stop the use of the most toxic bioactive chemicals If we can not eliminate the use of the chemicals, the technology required to remove them from waste water needs to be developed. From a meeting at the Royal Society for Chemistry on 12th November 2014 in London on Priority Chemicals it was revealed the the source of the toxic chemicals in Europe, is not industry but domestic sources. In the developing countries it is more likely to be industry.
Over 90% of the surface fresh water (rivers & lakes) and 75% of ground-water in China, Bangladesh, India is grossly contaminated. The chemicals are impacting on industrial productivity and the health and wellbeing of everyone. Even if the elimination of priority chemicals is not the complete solution to climate change, it will protect drinking water resource, the life in the oceans and stability of the ecosystem. If we lose the marine ecosystem, the terrestrial system cannot be sustained.
Benefits for society and our environment
Primary productivity account for 98% of all biomass in the oceans, so the microbes and plankton in the oceans are the drivers of the ecosystem. The organisms can double in biomass every few minutes to days, so if we remove the priority chemicals the marine ecosystem should recover over a period of a few years. If we do not remove the priority chemicals, the marine ecosystem will collapse and climate change will be the least of our problems.
The good news is that we can fix the ecosystem if we all work together to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals.
1. Industry must stop supplying the public with goods that contain toxic priority chemicals, this is were most of the chemicals are coming from in the developed world, so it is our responsibility.
2. We need to deal with waste such as consumer electronics and prevent their toxic components entering the environment, we must stop exporting the problem to China and India. Technology needs to be developed to recycle and reuse the waste and turn it back into valuable components for a circular economy.
3. If we can not prevent the chemicals entering the environment we must develop the geology to remove the chemicals from rivers and ground water This will not only help protect the health and wellbeing of billions of people and provide water and food security, it is also the final barrier to protect the oceans and the heath and well being of the entire ecosystem
Nature can adapt to organic waste such as ammonium, nitrates, urea and even green house gases including carbon dioxide and methane, they are very important but not the primary problem. Nature simply can not adapt to man made chemicals such as PCBs and fire retardants including PBDE or mercury, if we don't deal with this problem over the next 25 years, we are basically stuffed.
Any organizations wishing to get involved with GOES (Global Oceanic Environmental Survey) contact