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Temporal Trends and Controlling Factors for Polychlorinated Biphenyls in the UK Atmosphere (1991-2008)

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date1/11/2010
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Journal number21
Volume44
Number of pages7
Pages8068-8074
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Long-term air monitoring data sets are needed for persistent organic pollutants (POPs), to assess the effectiveness of source abatement measures and the factors controlling ambient levels. The Toxic Organic Micro-Pollutants (TOMPS) program in the United Kingdom started in 1991, generating a data set for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The history and volumes of production, usage, and subsequent restrictions on PCBs in the UK are well-characterized relative to many countries, providing a valuable case study on the effectiveness of controls and the factors influencing ambient levels and trends of these "model POPs". PCB air concentrations (congeners PCB 28, 52, 90/101, 118, 138, 153, and 180) from six rural and urban monitoring sites are presented. Most show a statistically significant decrease in PCBs levels over time, consistent with estimates of emissions, helping to validate emissions inventories. Times for a 50% decline in concentrations (sometimes called clearance rates) averaged 4.7 +/- 1.6 years for all congeners at all sites. The trends at different sites and for different congeners were not statistically different from each other. Concentration differences between sites are correlated with local population density (i.e., the degree of urbanization), which supports approaches to modeling of primary emissions on the national and regional scale. The data set indicates that ambient levels and underlying trends of PCBs continue to reflect the controlling influence of diffuse primary sources from the ongoing stock of PCBs in urban environments. Production and use restrictions came into force in the UK over 40 years ago; trends since monitoring began in the early 1990s should be seen as part of a continuing decline in ambient levels since that time.