Ecological Impacts of Toxic Chemicals

Ecological Impacts of Organic Chemicals on Freshwater Ecosystems

Author(s): Paul K. Sibley, Mark L. Hanson,

Pp: 138-164 (27)

DOI: 10.2174/978160805121211101010138


The ecological impacts of organic pollutants on freshwater ecosystems have attracted immense scientific, regulatory, and public attention over the past fifty years. In part, this reflects the significant role that freshwater ecosystems play as a repository for anthropogenic chemicals relative to other systems. Some of the most severe ecological impacts have been documented in freshwater ecosystems from persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated dioxins and furans, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Such chemicals can reside for long periods in freshwater sediments, which can then constitute a continual source to the environment even when direct inputs have ceased. Exposure of freshwater biota at lower trophic levels to persistent chemicals can result in transfer to, and ecological impacts at, higher trophic levels through bioaccumulation and biomagnification. In contrast to historically significant organic pollutants, the pervasive nature of new pollutant classes (e.g. pharmaceuticals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and perfluorinated surfactants) in global freshwater ecosystems is beginning to be recognized but the full spectrum of their ecological impacts is poorly understood. In this chapter we review documented and potential ecological impacts of organic chemicals in freshwater ecosystems. We focus predominantly on effects at the population, community, and ecosystem levels but, to the extent that our understanding of impacts at these higher levels is predominantly extrapolated from information derived at lower levels, we also include information at the organism and sub-organism level. In addressing each chemical class, impacts on microbial, plant, invertebrate, fish, and fish-eating bird populations are considered where data exists.

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