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 A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

nachricht Urbanization to convert 300,000 km2 of prime croplands
27.12.2016 | Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) gGmbH

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: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How gut bacteria can make us ill

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

On track to heal leukaemia

18.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle

17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>