Skip to main content
School of Geography

Coastal landfills risk leaking long-banned toxic chemicals into the ocean

Professor Kate Spencer, Professor of Environmental Geochemistry, has recently written for The Conversation exploring how coastal landfills risk leaking long-banned toxic chemicals into the ocean.


Five years ago, a killer whale called Lulu washed up on the shores of Scotland. She was thought to be over 20 years old, though autopsies revealed she had never had any offspring. Tissues recovered from Lulu suggested she was one of the most PCB-contaminated animals on the planet. She came from the UK’s only resident killer whales, a group of eight, none of which had ever had young and are now considered infertile from pollution.

Legacy pollutants like PCBs are chemical contaminants that take a long time to break down in the environment and often still cause harm to humans and wildlife many decades after they are banned. Many legacy pollutants have been buried in landfills out of our sight and therefore out of our minds. PCBs or polychlorinated biphenols were used in electrical components and many other materials between the 1930s and 1970s, before being phased out around the world after concerns about their toxicity and ability to accumulate through the food chain. In total, over a million tonnes were produced. A third of this has already been released to the environment, but up to two-thirds is still locked up in either old landfill or storage sites or materials.

While some studies have indicated that PCBs released into the environment are in decline, many marine mammals have concentrations way above safe thresholds for their immune system and fertility. This has led some scientists to predict dramatic


Read the full article here.



Back to top