The Hot Zone

Climate change could bring a more toxic world

Posted by Alison Hawkes on November 11, 2010
Category : Climate Science and Scientists

There’s been growing concern about the levels of mercury and chemicals finding their way to the Arctic, which is ending up in the fat of large mammals. Part of the problem is due to the way toxins travel around the globe, but also because animals like polar bears and Arctic foxes are getting leaner. As the extra fat burns away, toxins are released into the blood streams of these animals.

Climate change could be exacerbating the problem for very different reasons. Nature News reports that environmental chemists presenting at this week’s Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry annual conference found that warming temperatures and ocean acidity is making toxins more bioavailable.

That’s because as ice melts, more seawater is exposed to the air making it easier for toxins to get into the atmosphere. Changes in the circulation of water around the globe could increase acidity and alter the toxicity of pharmaceuticals which have been found in ever increasing concentrations in water bodies. Medication is designed to be released at certain changes in acidity that match human metabolism, but more acidic oceans and streams may mimic those conditions.

Species also show greater sensitivity to lead at higher temperatures, while low flowing streams expose creatures to higher levels of ultraviolet light.

I’m guessing humans will also be exposed to the increase in these circulating toxins, since we consume many of the species affected, like fish. Climate change is, quite literally, toxic.

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