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New WDC pollution report points to UK toxic tragedy

Lulu was so full of chemicals, her body was treated as toxic waste. Image: SMASS

Our new report into chemical pollution paints a grim future for the dolphins, whales and porpoises that inhabit UK waters.

Exposure to toxic pollutants (chemicals and heavy metals) is leading to cancer, foetal deaths, problem births and stillbirths in these marine mammals, with chemical pollution worsening the impact of natural infections by suppressing their immune system and decreasing their resistance to disease.

Of particular concern is the lack of regulation around the production and use of PFAS, known as ‘forever chemicals’. PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) have been used in many consumer products since the 1950s, including grease-resistant paper, carboard food packaging, and personal care products like shampoo, dental floss, nail polish and eye makeup.

Unlike PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls - used within everyday items such as electronic devices, paints, cements, sealants, adhesives, and pesticide products), which were banned decades ago but still impact the environment today, the WDC report highlights that PFAS are still not outlawed, but are already persistent in our natural world, and their health impacts on marine and human lives are not clear.

We are urging the government to take decisive steps when publishing its upcoming Chemicals Strategy as the UK diverges downwards from EU standards at an alarming rate.

‘It’s vital that the UK sets out a robust plan to protect the ocean, wildlife and people from hazardous chemicals, and prevent future pollution’, says Pine Eisfeld-Pierantonio, WDC’s marine pollution coordinator. ‘These persistent chemicals are already in our marine environment and the government’s focus must be on urgently preventing further contamination of our natural world.’

Our report is the most comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of the impacts of chemicals on whales and dolphins. It calls for action including:
-Stricter regulation
-Improved waste management
-Rigorous phasing out of known toxic chemicals.
-Funded targeted research
-Education and Public Awareness

The Scottish west coast population of orcas is already destined for extinction, having failed to produce any young in over 30 years, and are now down to the last two orca, in part due to huge toxic loads in their bodies caused by chemicals pumped into the sea. This loss calls into question the future of the remaining three UK orca populations.

‘The government needs to take immediate action to protect marine mammals in the UK against the massive threat that they face from chemical pollution’, says Eisfeld-Pierantonio.

‘Because of a lack of action, the government are on track to make the same mistakes again as they did with PCBs which are still impacting the environment today, despite being banned decades ago. We are calling for urgency and a clear and decisive chemicals strategy from government that seeks to protect biodiversity at a time that it is declining at a rate unparalleled in human history.’