Growing number of contaminants in marine ecosystem

17 October 2013

Chemicals from every day household products are increasingly being detected in the environment.

Chemicals from every day household products are increasingly being detected in the environment.

The presence of a growing number of contaminants, in particular pharmaceuticals in marine ecosystems, is of international concern as many of these every day chemicals are designed to be biologically active and may have adverse effects on marine organisms, University of Canterbury (UC) senior chemistry lecturer Dr Sally Gaw says.

The emerging contaminants are not routinely monitored in the environment but they pose potential threats to ecosystems and human health, she says.

"These emerging contaminants are of interest either because we have more information about their adverse effects in the environment or, in some cases, due to advances in analytical equipment we are now able to detect them in the environment,’’ Dr Gaw says.

She will be giving a public lecture on campus next week (October 23) discussing emerging contaminants. Dr Gaw will explain how pharmaceutical contaminants enter coastal waters, how showering and cleaning your teeth can contribute to marine pollution and how anti-depressants have been found in fish brains.

"Until recently, researchers investigating the impacts of these emerging contaminants have focussed on freshwater environments and there has been limited assessment of these every day chemicals in marine environments.

"New Zealand's population is predominantly coastal, with three quarters of the population living within 10km of the coast. The coastline is a national taonga and a significant source of income.

"I will be explaining the likely impacts of emerging contaminants in the marine environment and the potential impacts on human health.

"Many of these contaminants are every day chemicals in widespread use in consumer products, personal care products and pharmaceuticals. The presence of antibiotics and antimicrobial compounds in the environment is a public health issue due to the potential for the development of antibiotic drug resistance in bacteria.

"Sewage discharges are a major source of emerging contaminants entering coastal waters. Current sewage treatment processes were not designed to remove these types of contaminants.’’

Measures to reduce the impact of emerging contaminants in the marine environment will involve a combination of improved treatment at wastewater plants and regulatory controls for high risk chemicals, Dr Gaw says.

For details about her lecture, see: https://www.eventbrite.co.nz/event/8360082231

View her lecture here: http://youtu.be/Ie92hcVBx1Y

For further information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168
kip.brook@canterbury.ac.nz