University of Vienna: Chemical pollution threatens biodiversity

Scientists call for more environmental pollutants to be taken into account in species protection

Chemical pollution of the environment threatens biodiversity. The complexity of this pollution has so far not been sufficiently grasped by decision-makers – this is what international researchers led by Gabriel Sigmund from the University of Vienna and Ksenia Groh from the Eawag water research institute (Dübendorf, Switzerland) write in the current issue of the journal “Science”. They appeal to decision-makers and researchers to consider more chemicals than previously planned. Your contribution appears shortly before the international negotiations on a new biodiversity agreement, the “post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework”. These will take place in Nairobi (Kenya) from June 21st.

“Although chemical pollution is mentioned in the draft agreement, it only takes into account nutrients, pesticides and plastic waste and thus falls short,” explains environmental scientist Gabriel Sigmund. “Many highly problematic chemicals that pollute the environment and thus threaten the diversity of animal and plant species are simply lost sight of,” adds ecotoxicologist Ksenia Groh. As a result, the agreement does not do justice to the immense variety of man-made chemicals. Toxic metals, industrial chemicals, chemicals from consumer goods, pharmaceuticals and the often unknown transformation products of these chemicals are problematic from the perspective of the researchers.

Chemicals reduce the resistance of living beings

The chemical pollutants affect organisms in the environment both directly and indirectly and can thus contribute to the decline or even extinction of sensitive species. For example, populations of killer whales off the coasts of Canada, Brazil, Japan and Gibraltar are threatened because they have high concentrations of industrial chemicals in their bodies. In addition, as plants and animals adapt to chemical stress, their genetic diversity may decrease. “If the genetic diversity of living beings decreases, then their resilience to stress factors such as global warming and other aspects of global change also decreases,” warns Groh. “Such indirect effects of chemical pollution and countless other interactions with other substances,

Researchers call for interdisciplinary efforts and political support

In the opinion of the researchers, joint efforts by interdisciplinary research teams are essential in order to capture the complex interactions. “Nevertheless, in our opinion, neither the scientific community nor the sponsors have yet recognized how explosive the topic is and how necessary additional research is,” regrets Sigmund. “But what we know so far already justifies extending the measures within the framework of the biodiversity convention to a broader range of chemical pollutants,” he emphasizes. The so-called “post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework” is a new strategic plan intended to guide international political decisions on the topic of biodiversity up to 2030. It is presented in the context of the multilateral agreement on biological diversity.