Lingering PCB Pollution Still a Significant Threat to Marine Animals

Recently published research has come to light that highlights the plight of the world’s killer whale population, suggesting that they could face extinction in just 30 to 50 years.

The culprit? Toxic chemicals that were banned almost half a century ago.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, also known as PCBs, were used in oil paint, capacitors, and coolants until the 1970s. Decades after PCBs were banned, these compounds are still present in the environment. Ship paint and cable insulation made with PCBs are still in current use. To add insult to injury, 80 percent of the world’s PCB stockpiles have never even been destroyed.

PCBs a major threat to our oceans

Despite efforts to take them out of production, PCBs are still wreaking havoc on our oceans. They have been found responsible for changes in orca and dolphin behavior, destroying their immune systems and impacting their reproductive processes so much that their entire species may not survive.

PCB molecules find their way into the food system as they are drawn to living organisms. As orcas are at the top of the food chain, they consume animals that have already absorbed the PCBs, whose molecules then build up in their blubber.

High-risk areas include the UK and the Straits of Gibraltar

According to a study conducted by Vancouver’s Ocean Wise, fully half of the world’s orca populations are already declining due to PCB exposure. In areas that include the United Kingdom and the Straits of Gibraltar, less than 10 orcas are thought to remain. In Japan, Hawaii, and the Northeast Pacific, populations are particularly at risk, while those in higher latitudes such as in Norway and in the Arctic show less contamination.

While the results of the study are far from conclusive, it still represents a serious wake-up call to a species that is already at-risk from other environmental threats.

A very public orca tragedy

The most studied group of orcas live off the coast of Seattle, Washington. Since the 19th century, the population of orcas in this area has gone from several hundred down to just 74.

As these animals are highly emotional and lead rich family lives, their tragedies have been the subject of recent news. In one case, an orca mother mourned a dead calf for 17 days, pushing its body more than 1,000 miles through the ocean. Several other cases of starving, sick, or emaciated whales have been witnessed as well.

Studies conducted over the course of six years have determined that 70 percent of all known orca pregnancies have failed. While PCBs can’t be blamed for the entirety of the situation, it is a significant contributor to the dwindling populations. The toxins are passed onto offspring during pregnancy and nursing and appear to have a far-reaching effect on the animal’s immune system, making them even more vulnerable to various diseases that, prior to the introduction of PCBs, would not have been deemed much of a problem.

You are in control of your hazardous waste

The good news is, there is always something you can do. As a hazardous waste specialist, Cleanlites Recycling is committed to environmental excellence. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help.