Study discovers personal products in Antarctica

04 December 2014

A UC project has found everyday chemicals used in personal care products including soaps, cosmetics and sunscreens are present in sewage effluents discharged.

Study discovers personal products in Antarctica

Dr Sally Gaw

A University of Canterbury research project has found everyday chemicals used in personal care products including soaps, cosmetics and sunscreens are present in sewage effluents discharged from Antarctic research bases. 

The study was undertaken by a Canterbury PhD student Phil Emnet under the supervision of Dr Sally Gaw, in the university’s chemistry department, Professor Bryan Storey from Gateway Antarctica and Dr Grant Northcott from Northcott Research Consultants. 

The findings were published in the Journal of Environmental Research. The study was funded by Antarctica New Zealand.  Active ingredients in personal care products are a class of emerging contaminants increasingly being studied.

"Emerging organic contaminants (EOCs) are contaminants that are not routinely monitored for in the environment and have the potential to have adverse ecological or human health effects,” Dr Gaw says.

"These emerging contaminants were also found in Antarctic coastal waters at concentrations comparable to more urban areas elsewhere in the world including New Zealand, Dr Emnet says.

"What was interesting was how widespread some of the EOCs were in the Antarctic coastal waters. We found contaminants along larger coastal areas than we expected. It is likely that the environmental conditions, including extreme cold, could have contributed to the persistence of some of these compounds in seawater. Sewage discharges may therefore be having greater impacts over a much wider area in marine environments than previously thought.” Dr Emnet says.

The presence of these contaminants in surface waters is of international concern as many of these everyday chemicals are designed to be biologically active and may have adverse effects on marine organisms. The vulnerability of Antarctic organisms to these contaminants has not been studied, Gaw says.


"This study will lead to better waste management and monitoring systems being put in place for Antarctic research programmes. This study highlights Antarctica New Zealand’s commitment to reducing the impacts of scientific research on Antarctica,’’ she says.

Antarctica New Zealand’s Dr Neil Gilbert says the aim as a responsible national Antarctic programme is to use the best available research knowledge to help improve environmental management practices. 

"That's just what we have done here. We have further improved our understanding of the quality of the water we are returning to McMurdo Sound and identified an improvement opportunity,’’  he says.

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

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