Scientists have warned about the danger that has been posed by plastic pollution in the most pristine patches of the world after discovering chemical additives in birds’ eggs in the High Arctic.
Eggs that have been laid by northern fulmars on Prince Leopold Island in the Canadian Arctic were found positive for hormone-disrupting phthalates, a group of chemicals that are added to plastics to keep them flexible. It is for the first time that the additives have been found in Arctic birds’ eggs, which is no common sign.
The contaminants are supposed to have been emerged from plastic debris that the birds took in while hunting for fish, squid, and shrimp in the Lancaster Sound at the entrance to the Northwest Passage. The birds usually spend most of their time feeding at sea and then returning to their nests only to breed.
Jennifer Provencher at the Canadian Wildlife Service says that it was worrying to find the contaminants in the eggs of birds in such a pure environment. The northern fulmars in the Arctic tend to come across far less plastic compared to other birds.
Provencher’s tests disclosed the fact that mothers passed on a cocktail of contaminants to their unborn chicks. “It’s really tragic,” she exclaimed at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC. “That bird, from the very beginning of its development, will have those contaminants inside it.”
The scientists are now planning to look for plastic contaminants in the eggs of other bird populations that intake more plastic debris. “We need to look at whether they have the same chemicals, higher levels of chemicals, and additional chemicals,” said Provencher. “The recognition that at least some of these contaminants are going into eggs really opens the door for all these other questions we should be asking in areas of much higher plastic concentrations.”
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