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J Environ Monit. 2007 Aug;9(8):822-5. Epub 2007 Jul 2.

Penguin colonies as secondary sources of contamination with persistent organic pollutants.

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Toxicological Centre, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610, Wilrijk, Belgium.


Although long-range atmospheric transport has been described as the predominant mechanism for exposing polar regions to persistent organic pollutants (POPs), recent studies have suggested that bird activity can also contribute substantially to contaminant levels in some environments. However, because the species so far reported have all been migratory, it has not been demonstrated conclusively whether locally elevated contamination represents transport from lower latitudes by the migrating birds or, alternatively, redistribution and concentration of contaminants that were already present in the high-latitude environments. The present study demonstrates, for the first time, that several POPs are present in elevated concentrations in an environment frequented by a non-migratory species (Adélie penguins) that spends its entire life in the Antarctic. Levels of POPs, such as p,p'-DDE, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), chlordanes (CHLs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were 10 to 100-fold higher in soil samples from penguin colonies than from reference areas. This significant difference is likely related to local penguin activity, such as a higher abundance of guano and the presence of bird carcasses. This hypothesis is also supported by a higher percentage of persistent congeners (PCB 99, 118, 138 and 153) in the soil from the colonies compared to the reference areas. This profile of PCB congeners closely matched profiles seen in penguin eggs or penguin blood.

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