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Chemical pollution's animal impacts

2 minute read

Francesca Bevan

Dr Francesca Bevan, Chemicals Policy and Advocacy Manager

12 Oct 2022

There are now proven links between harmful chemicals and the health of animals. These include damage to their nervous systems, immunity and their ability to reproduce.

With more studies on the long-term effects of chemical pollution published regularly, research is showing the frightening, real-world consequences of inaction on our blue planet.

So just what are the impacts of harmful chemicals on wildlife?

Otters

Otters in England and Wales have been found to have PFAS present in their bodies - a warning sign of PFAS in other species.

According to a recent study, otters that died between 2014-2019 all contained two types of restricted PFAS and 80% of the animals had at least 12 different types of the chemicals in their livers.

80

%

otters had at least 12 different types of PFAS in their livers

Polar bears

Polar bears will struggle to survive in an environment becoming increasingly hostile at the hands of the climate crisis. Forever chemicals impact polar bear's behaviours and hormonal balance – from searching for food to mating. The animals’ survival is reliant on a good memory and sharp senses when navigating their surroundings - any influence on this as a result of chemical pollution could prove fatal.

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Killer whales

In the next century, a complete collapse of the UK’s killer whale population is likely. In the last two decades there have been no new calves from the UK’s killer whale populations. Frighteningly, if this continues, the population could completely collapse within the next 100 years. (Desforges et al., 2018). This decline is consistent with pollution from another group of highly persistent chemicals.

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Credit: Bart van meele maxbz / Unsplash

Harbour porpoises

Infectious disease is the first cause of death reported for harbour porpoise stranded on the UK coast. Harbour porpoises are at an increased risk of infectious diseases as a result of an accumulation of harmful chemicals in their systems. At current concentrations, the population’s risk of disease has increased by a staggering 41%. This reduced immunity is – literally – killing these animals in UK seas.

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Credit: Richard Shucksmith / scotlandbigpicture.com

Seal pups

Harmful chemicals in young, already vulnerable, marine mammals are impacting their ability to survive. Following a study of grey seals on the coast of Scotland between 2015 and 2017, scientists found that 18-day old seal pups have already accumulated high enough levels of harmful chemicals in their blubber to impact function, which may negatively impact their ability to survive their first year of life at sea.

The impact of chemical pollution on our blue planet is profound. If we’re going to prevent further environmental breakdown and fight the biodiversity crisis, we must address chemical pollution.

Sandy Luk, CEO

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