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The global re-cycling of persistent organic pollutants is strongly retarded by soils.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date01/2003
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Journal number1
Volume121
Number of pages6
Pages75-80
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Persistent organic pollutants’ (POPs) are semi-volatile, mobile in the environment and bioaccumulate. Their toxicity and propensity for long-range atmospheric transport (LRAT) has led to international bans/restrictions on their use/release. LRAT of POPs may occur by a ‘single hop’ or repeated temperature-driven air–surface exchange. It has been hypothesised that this will result in global fractionation and distillation—with condensation and accumulation in polar regions. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)—industrial chemicals banned/restricted in the 1970s—provide a classic illustration of POP behaviour. A latitudinally-segmented global PCB inventory has been produced, which shows that 86% of the 1.3×106 tonnes produced was used in the temperate industrial zone of the northern hemisphere. A global survey of background surface soils gives evidence for ‘fractionation’ of PCBs. More significantly, however, very little of the total inventory has ‘made the journey’ via primary emission and/or air–surface exchange and LRAT out of the heavily populated source regions, in the 70 years since PCBs were first produced. Soils generally occlude PCBs, especially soils with dynamic turnover of C/bioturbation/burial mechanisms. This limits the fraction of PCBs available for repeated air–soil exchange. The forested soils of the northern hemisphere, and other C-rich soils, appear to be playing an important role in ‘protecting’ the Arctic from the advective supply of POPs. Whilst investigations on POPs in remote environments are important, it is imperative that researchers also seek to better understand their release from sources, persistence in source regions, and the significant loss mechanisms/global sinks of these compounds, if they wish to predict future trends.