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Science. 2007 Jul 13;317(5835):236-9.

Food web-specific biomagnification of persistent organic pollutants.

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School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia, V5A 1S6, Canada.

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  • Science. 2007 Oct 5;318(5847):44.


Substances that accumulate to hazardous levels in living organisms pose environmental and human-health risks, which governments seek to reduce or eliminate. Regulatory authorities identify bioaccumulative substances as hydrophobic, fat-soluble chemicals having high octanol-water partition coefficients (K(OW))(>/=100,000). Here we show that poorly metabolizable, moderately hydrophobic substances with a K(OW) between 100 and 100,000, which do not biomagnify (that is, increase in chemical concentration in organisms with increasing trophic level) in aquatic food webs, can biomagnify to a high degree in food webs containing air-breathing animals (including humans) because of their high octanol-air partition coefficient (K(OA)) and corresponding low rate of respiratory elimination to air. These low K(OW)-high K(OA) chemicals, representing a third of organic chemicals in commercial use, constitute an unidentified class of potentially bioaccumulative substances that require regulatory assessment to prevent possible ecosystem and human-health consequences.

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