No orcas left due to PCBs

Amsterdam, 2 October 2018 – Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are toxic organic compounds which hardly break down in the environment and accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals. PCBs have been used on a large scale for a long time because of certain properties, among other things as a flame retardant in plastics. In the Stockholm Convention for persistent organic pollutants (2001) which was signed by 152 countries, it was agreed to stop production and use of PCBs because of their harmfulness. Most countries had already banned PCBs. The problem is that the PCBs are still widely found in the environment and particularly affect the fertility of animals.

An international research team has now established that populations of the orca or killer whale (Orcinus orca) are threatened in their survival worldwide. The article reporting this appeared in Science. Since orcas are at the top of the food chain, the concentration of PCBs in their fatty tissue is extremely high. According to a post by the Dutch national broadcasting organization NOS, PCB values of 1300 milligrams per kilo of were measured in the fatty tissue of orcas, while 50 milligrams already would have an adverse effect on fertility. Newborn orcas are hardly seen anymore. The extinction of the species could be a matter of a few decades. The news is particularly serious, because nothing more can be done anymore to prevent this.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “The world has delayed banning PCBs for years. As early as the 1960s their harmfulness was known and not until 2001 a worldwide ban was agreed. Even now additives, such as flame retardants, are added to plastic. These additives leak from the plastic into water and are known to be harmful. The sad example of the killer whales shows us the importance of a preventive ban on these substances, i.e. as a precaution and not after their harmfulness has been proven in detail and the harmful substances can no longer be removed from the environment.”