Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Chemosphere


Human-induced rapid environmental change has created a global pandemic of neurobehavioral disorders in which industrial compounds like lead are the root cause. We assessed the feral pigeon (Columba livia) as a lead bioindicator in New York City. We collected blood lead level records from 825 visibly ill or abnormally behaving pigeons from various NYC neighborhoods between 2010 and 2015. We found that blood lead levels were significantly higher during the summer, an effect reported in children. Pigeon blood lead levels were not significantly different between years or among neighborhoods. However, blood lead levels per neighborhood in Manhattan were positively correlated with mean rates of lead in children identified by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as having elevated blood lead levels (>10 μg/dl). We provide support for the use of the feral pigeon as a bioindicator of environmental lead contamination for the first time in the U.S. and for the first time anywhere in association with rates of elevated blood lead levels in children. This information has the potential to enable measures to assess, strategize, and potentially circumvent the negative impacts of lead and other environmental contaminants on human and wildlife communities.

Concepts: New York, Columbidae, Queens, Manhattan, Rock Pigeon, Blood lead level, Lead poisoning, New York City


The Grenfell Tower fire in central London, started within a flat, engulfed the whole 24 storey building in flames, killed 72 people and spread toxic effluent via the plume and particulate deposits. Soil samples from 6 locations up to 1,2 km from the Tower, together with semi-burnt fire debris and char samples, were collected 1 and 6 months after the fire. Additionally, dust samples and condensates were collected from a flat 160 m away from the Tower after 17 months. Samples were analysed for common potentially toxic components of fire effluents and synthetic vitreous fibres. Samples collected within 140 m of the Tower showed, amongst other toxicants, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin concentrations 60 times greater than UK urban reference soil levels; benzene levels were 40 times greater; levels of 6 key polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were approximately 160 times greater. PAHs levels are approximately 20 times greater than those reported from nearby Hyde Park before the fire. To explain the presence of these pyrogenic contaminants char and partially burnt debris were also collected and analysed. Benzene, PAHs, isocyanates and phosphorus flame retardants were found. Hydrogen cyanide and synthetic vitreous fibres were present in both soil and debris. Particulate and pyrogenic contamination in the immediate vicinity is clearly evident, and may have leached out of fire debris, char and dust. Further analysis of the area around the Tower is necessary to understand potential health risks.


Feasibility of soil washing to remediate Hg contaminated soil was studied. Dry sieving was performed to evaluate Hg distribution in soil particle size fractions. The influence of dissolved organic matter and chlorides on Hg dissolution was assessed by batch leaching tests. Mercury mobilization in the pH range of 3-11 was studied by pH-static titration. Results showed infeasibility of physical separation via dry sieving, as the least contaminated fraction exceeded the Swedish generic guideline value for Hg in soils. Soluble Hg did not correlate with dissolved organic carbon in the water leachate. The highest Hg dissolution was achieved at pH 5 and 11, reaching up to 0.3% of the total Hg. The pH adjustment was therefore not sufficient for the Hg removal to acceptable levels. Chlorides did not facilitate Hg mobilization under acidic pH either. Mercury was firmly bound in the studied soil thus soil washing might be insufficient method to treat the studied soil.

Concepts: Environmental remediation, Particle size distribution, Organic matter, Environmental chemistry, PH indicator, Water quality indicators, PH, Soil


Pharmaceuticals in the environment are a recently identified global threat to wildlife, including birds. Like other human pharmaceuticals, the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) enters the environment via sewage and has been detected at wastewater treatment plants. Birds foraging on invertebrates at these sites can be exposed to pharmaceuticals, although the implications of exposure are poorly understood. We conducted experiments to test whether chronic exposure to a maximally environmentally relevant concentration of fluoxetine (2.7 μg day-1) altered courtship behaviour and female reproductive physiology in wild-caught starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), a species commonly found foraging on invertebrates at wastewater treatment plants. When paired with a female over two days, males sang less and were more aggressive towards fluoxetine-treated females than controls. Fluoxetine-treated females were initially aggressive towards males, becoming significantly less aggressive by the second day. In contrast, control females expressed intermediate levels of aggression throughout. We found no effect of female treatment on female courtship behaviour. Female body condition, circulating testosterone and circulating oestradiol were unaffected by treatment and did not account for male preference. Our findings suggest that exposure to an antidepressant reduced female attractiveness, adding to growing evidence that environmental concentrations of pharmaceuticals can alter important traits related to individual fitness and population dynamics.


The occurrence of intersex fish, where male reproductive tissues show evidence of feminization, have been found in freshwater systems around the world, indicating the potential for significant endocrine disruption across species in the ecosystem. Estrogens from birth control medications in wastewater treatment plant effluent have been cited as the likely cause, but research has shown that endocrine disruption is not solely predictable based on hormone receptor interactions. Many other non-hormone pharmaceuticals are found in effluent at concentrations orders of magnitude higher than estrogens, yet there is little data indicating the impacts of these other medications. The widely prescribed anti-diabetic metformin is among the most abundant of pharmaceuticals found in effluent and is structurally dissimilar from hormones. However, we show here that exposing fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) to a concentration of metformin found in wastewater effluent causes the development of intersex gonads in males, reduced size of treated male fish, and reduction in fecundity for treated pairs. Our results demonstrate that metformin acts as an endocrine disruptor at environmentally relevant concentrations.

Concepts: Endocrine disruptor, Hermaphrodite, Pimephales, Water pollution, Fathead minnow, Endocrine system, Endocrinology, Sewage treatment


Brominated flame retardants (BFRs), are chemicals widely used in consumer products including electronics, vehicles, plastics and textiles to reduce flammability. Experimental animal studies have confirmed that these compounds may interfere with thyroid hormone homeostasis and neurodevelopment but to date health effects in humans have not been systematically examined.

Concepts: Flame retardants, Organism, Hexabromocyclododecane, Decabromodiphenyl ether, Fire retardant, Thyroid hormone, Flame retardant, Brominated flame retardant


Maternal exposure to polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may result in adverse health effects in their children. In Japan in 1968, an accidental human exposure to rice oil contaminated with PCDDs, PCDFs, and PCBs, led to the development of Yusho disease. Yusho mothers delivered descendants with low birth weights and hyperpigmented skin and mucosa, which are characteristic of fetal Yusho disease (FYD). The Yusho cohort was used to evaluate the effect of maternal exposure to PCDDs, PCDFs, and PCBs on the development of FYD. Blood samples, obtained from 64 Yusho mothers (117 descendants: 10 with FYD and 107 without FYD), were analyzed for congeners of seven PCDDs, 10 PCDFs, and four coplanar PCBs. We investigated the association between the maternal estimated blood levels of dioxins at delivery and the risk of fetal Yusho disease. We also studied the differences in dioxin blood levels in 24 mother-descendant pairs (5 with FYD and 19 without FYD). The estimated levels of total PCDD TEQ, total PCDF TEQ, total coplanar PCB TEQ, and total TEQ in the maternal blood at delivery were associated with significantly increased risk of FYD. The odds ratios, which present the risk of FYD for a 10-fold increase in blood dioxin, were largest for 1,2,3,6,7,8-HexaCDD (odds ratio=28.6, 95% confidence interval=1.67-489.9, p=0.02). The levels of 1,2,3,6,7,8-HexaCDD in both the Yusho mothers and their descendants with FYD were higher than the levels in those without FYD. These findings suggest that 1,2,3,6,7,8-HexaCDD is the most important causative congener for the development of FYD.

Concepts: PCB Congener List, Aryl hydrocarbon receptor, Persistent organic pollutant, Biphenyl, Low birth weight paradox, Chloracne, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins


Industrialized waterways frequently contain nearshore hotspots of legacy polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination, with uncertain contribution to aquatic food web contamination. We evaluated the utility of estuarine forage fish as biosentinel indicators of local PCB contamination across multiple nearshore sites in San Francisco Bay. Topsmelt (Atherinops affinis) or Mississippi silverside (Menidia audens) contamination was compared between 12 targeted sites near historically polluted locations and 17 probabilistically chosen sites representative of ambient conditions. The average sum of 209 PCB congeners in fish from targeted stations (441±432ngg(-1) wet weight, mean±SD) was significantly higher than probabilistic stations (138±94ngg(-1)). Concentrations in both species were comparable to those of high lipid sport fish in the Bay, strongly correlated with spatial patterns in sediment contamination, and above selected literature thresholds for potential hazard to fish and wildlife. The highest concentrations were from targeted Central Bay locations, including Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard (1347ngg(-1); topsmelt) and Stege Marsh (1337ngg(-1); silverside). Targeted sites exhibited increased abundance of lower chlorinated congeners, suggesting local source contributions, including Aroclor 1248. These findings indicate that current spatial patterns in PCB bioaccumulation correlate with historical sediment contamination due to industrial activity. They also demonstrate the utility of naturally occurring forage fish as biosentinels of localized PCB exposure.

Concepts: San Francisco Bay Area, Fish, PCB Congener List, Bay mud, Forage fish, Richmond, California, San Francisco Bay, Polychlorinated biphenyl


Genetic engineering of plants for phytoremediation is thought to be possible based on results using model plants expressing genes involved in heavy metal resistance, which improve the plant’s tolerance of heavy metals and accumulation capacity. The next step of progress in this technology requires the genetic engineering of plants that produce large amounts of biomass and the testing of these transgenic plants in contaminated soils. Thus, we transformed a sterile line of poplar Populus alba X P. tremula var. glandulosa with a heavy metal resistance gene, ScYCF1 (yeast cadmium factor 1), which encodes a transporter that sequesters toxic metal(loid)s into the vacuoles of budding yeast, and tested these transgenic plants in soil taken from a closed mine site contaminated with multiple toxic metal(loid)s under greenhouse and field conditions. The YCF1-expressing transgenic poplar plants exhibited enhanced growth, reduced toxicity symptoms, and increased Cd content in the aerial tissue compared to the non-transgenic plants. Furthermore, the plants accumulated increased amounts of Cd, Zn, and Pb in the root, because they could establish an extensive root system in mine tailing soil. These results suggest that the generation of YCF1-expressing transgenic poplar represents the first step towards producing plants for phytoremediation. The YCF1-expressing poplar may be useful for phytostabilization and phytoattenuation, especially in highly contaminated regions, where wild-type plants cannot survive.

Concepts: Lead, Biotechnology, Gene, System of a Down, Toxicology, Zinc, Populus, Heavy metal music


Onsite wastewater systems, or septic tanks, serve approximately 25% of the United States population; they are therefore a critical component of the total carbon balance for natural water bodies. Septic tanks operate under strictly anaerobic conditions, and fermentation is the dominant process driving carbon transformation. Nitrate, Fe(III), and sulfate reduction may be operating to a limited extent in any given septic tank. Electron acceptor amendments will increase carbon oxidation, but nitrate is toxic and sulfate generates corrosive sulfides, which may damage septic system infrastructure. Fe(III) reducing microorganisms transform all major classes of organic carbon that are dominant in septic wastewater: low molecular weight organic acids, carbohydrate monomers and polymers, and lipids. Fe(III) is not toxic, and the reduction product Fe(II) is minimally disruptive if the starting Fe(III) is added at 50-150mgL(-1). We used (14)C radiolabeled acetate, lactate, propionate, butyrate, glucose, starch, and oleic acid to demonstrate that short and long-term carbon oxidation is increased when different forms of Fe(III) are amended to septic wastewater. The rates of carbon mineralization to (14)CO(2) increased 2-5times (relative to unamended systems) in the presence of Fe(III). The extent of mineralization reached 90% for some carbon compounds when Fe(III) was present, compared to levels of 50-60% in the absence of Fe(III). (14)CH(4) was not generated when Fe(III) was added, demonstrating that this strategy can limit methane emissions from septic systems. Amplified 16S rDNA restriction analysis indicated that unique Fe(III)-reducing microbial communities increased significantly in Fe(III)-amended incubations, with Fe(III)-reducers becoming the dominant microbial community in several incubations. The form of Fe(III) added had a significant impact on the rate and extent of mineralization; ferrihydrite and lepidocrocite were favored as solid phase Fe(III) and chelated Fe(III) (with nitrilotriacetic acid or EDTA) as soluble Fe(III) forms.

Concepts: Imhoff tank, Soil, Redox, Septic drain field, Nitrate, Wastewater, Sewage treatment, Septic tank