Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Antique Whale Oil Provides Insights to Origin of Pre-Industrial Chemicals

16.10.2006
Samples from Whaleship Charles W. Morgan Helps Scientists Trace Sources

One of the last remaining New England whaling ships has provided unexpected insights into the origin of halogenated organic compounds (HOCs) that have similar chemical and physical properties as toxic PCBs and the pesticide DDT. HOCs are found everywhere and degrade slowly, but some are naturally produced and others are produced by humans.

While large scale industrial production of HOCs did not begin until the late 1920s, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts say naturally produced HOCs were bioaccumulating in marine mammals before major chemical companies like Monsanto, Dupont, and 3M were making HOCs for industrial uses. Their findings are reported in the online version of the journal Environmental Pollution.

In the past decade, scientists conducting routine analyses of animal and food samples began to discover unknown HOCs in their samples. Detective work led to their identities, but where these compounds were coming from has been a mystery. While some of these "unknown" compounds can be loosely traced to a possible industrial or natural source, the majority of these compounds have no known industrial or natural sources.

Emma Teuten and Christopher Reddy found their pre-industrial HOC samples in a most unlikely place: whale oil from the Charles W. Morgan, one of the last whaling ships operating during the 19th and early 20th century. Built in 1841 in New Bedford, Mass., the ship traveled the world looking for whales, often on voyages of three years or more. The ship is now preserved and on public display at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Conn. The researchers received the whale oil samples from the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Teuten and Reddy studied one sample of antique whale oil and found the HOCs in all the samples . The results provide further evidence that naturally produced HOCs were accumulating in marine mammals long before the human-produced varieties.

“What is most interesting to us is that we still find these ’natural’ compounds in recent samples from marine mammals, human breast milk, and commercially available fish in Canada,” said study co-author Christopher Reddy, an associate scientist in the WHOI Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department. With co-author Emma Teuten, now at the University of Plymouth, England but previously at WHOI, Reddy studied one of the previously unknown HOCs and determined that it was from a natural source, not industrial pollution. The approach was time consuming, taking more than six months of lab work to complete, and required more than ten pounds of whale blubber.

“Our main goal now is to identify who is making them, why, and how toxic they are,” said Teuten. “We suspect that many of these compounds were and are made by bacteria, plants, animals as chemical defense mechanisms.”

Reddy says the properties of these natural compounds he and Teuten found in the archived whale oil are similar to those of industrial HOCs. “Most industrial HOCs do degrade in the environment, although very slowly. With adequate regulations regarding the manufacture and release of the industrial versions, we expect in the future that natural HOCs, rather than industrial ones, will again be the only HOCs found in animal and human tissue.”

Reddy says these results should motivate science to consider the ecological role and bioactivity of these natural HOCs and how pre-exposure to these compounds prepared bacteria, plants, animals, and humans for industrial HOCs introduced during the past century. It is well known that organisms have evolved defensive mechanisms against chemicals in their environment, and until recently the sources of these chemicals were primarily natural. The importance of HOCs like those identified by Teuten and Reddy in the evolution of these defenses is not yet understood.

Industrial HOCs have been accumulating in the environment since the 1930’s. Production of PCBs began in 1929, DDT in the late 1930s. “Knowing that the natural compounds have been produced for much longer times, we can use the natural sources as tools in studying the industrial ones,” Teuten said. “For example, we may be able to use these natural HOCs as chemical tracers, just like dyes are used in medicine.”

This study was supported by the National Science Foundation, WHOI Ocean Life Institute, and The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.

Shelley Dawicki | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.whoi.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

nachricht Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Measured for the first time: Direction of light waves changed by quantum effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>