As one of the creatures on top of the Arctic food chain, polar bears play an important role in keeping the ecosystem alive. Because of climate change, however, these marine mammals are considered vulnerable to the threat of extinction.
But a recent analysis shows that polar bears are also facing persistent pollution as yet another threat to their existence.
The study has brought to light the massive effects of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) on polar bears.
By reviewing available literature, researchers studied the effect of POPs on the Arctic ecosystem and found that, among the animals in the food chain, polar bears are more vulnerable to the ecotoxicological effects.
Compared to seals with a very low risk threshold for POP, adult polar bears are more at risk by two orders higher, and their cubs are even more at risk at three orders higher. The polar bear cubs mentioned in the study are those that were fed with POP contaminated milk.
The study also states that levels of POP risks have decreased since the 1980s possibly due to the new protocols regarding the control of their usage.
However, the continuous change in the composition of POP already in the environment and the influx of new types of POP can still contribute to this environmental hazard.
What Exactly Are Persistent Organic Pollutants Or POPs?
Persistent Organic Pollutants are named as such for a reason. The term pertains to the organic products that are currently used, or were once manufactured, for industrial use whether for agricultural, industrial, or manufacturing purposes.
An example would be hydraulic fluids and paint additives. Byproducts of industrial processes as well as combustion also unintentionally produce POPs such as dioxin, one of the 12 POPs with adverse effects discussed in the Stockholm Convention.
The relevant and possibly most damaging property of POPs is in its name itself: persistence. They stay in the environment for a long time and can be carried by wind or water. These are toxic chemicals with adverse effects on human health and also on wildlife. What's more, the effects can be passed on through the natural food chain.
POPs In The Wild
In the case of the polar bears, being vulnerable to the adverse effects of POPs and being on top of the food chain can mean a major problem. The exposure of the animals in the lower parts of the chain to POPs can lead to magnified effects in creatures on top of the food chain. In addition, these POPs can lead to abnormalities and birth defects in certain species.
What Is Being Done To Address POPs?
The Stockholm Convention is one such movement that tackles the elimination of POPs with the primary purpose of eliminating these chemicals, as well as protecting humans and the environment against the negative effects of these pollutants.
However, as mentioned in the study, the environment is already exposed to POPs, and new ones are adding to the pollution. The study suggests urgent action.