Influence of organic matter content and human activities on the occurrence of organic pollutants in antarctic soils, lichens, grass, and mosses

Ana Cabrerizo, Jordi Dachs, Damià Barceló, Kevin C Jones
Environmental Science & Technology 2012 February 7, 46 (3): 1396-405
Banned pesticides such as HCB and p,p'-DDE, and other legacy and ongoing pollutants such as PCBs and PAHs, were measured in different vegetation types and soil samples collected at selected areas from Antarctic Peninsula (Deception and Livingstone Islands, Southern Shetlands). Two Antarctic expeditions (in 2005 and 2009) were carried out to assess POPs levels at remote areas, and close to current and abandoned Antarctic research settlements, to assess potential sources of pollutants. Overall, the patterns in lichens, mosses, and grass were dominated by low molecular PCB congeners and PAHs and the presence of HCB and p,p'-DDE rather than heavier compounds, suggesting the importance of long-range atmospheric transport of POPs as the main vector for the introduction of these chemicals to Antarctica. Statistically significant correlations (p-level < 0.05) between concentrations in vegetation of PCBs, p,p'-DDE, and the more volatile PAHs with lipid content were found with r(2) of 0.22-0.52 for PCBs, 0.42 for p,p'-DDE, and 0.44-0.72 for the more volatile PAHs. Thus, lipid content is an important factor controlling POPs in Antarctic lichens, mosses, and grass. A strong significant dependence of HCB (r(2) = 0.83), p,p'-DDE (r(2) = 0.60), and PCBs (r(2) = 0.36-0.47) concentrations in soil on its organic carbon content was also observed, indicating the important role of soil organic matter (SOM) in the retention of PCBs and OCPs in Polar Regions, where SOM content is low. Penguin colonies enhance the SOM content in some areas which is reflected in higher concentrations of all POPs, especially of persistent compounds such as p,p'-DDE. Higher concentrations of PCBs and PAHs found at the currently active Byers Camp (in an Antarctic Specially Protected Area) were explained by higher SOM content, thus indicating that Antarctic regulations are being successfully fulfilled in this small research area. On the other hand, PAHs in soils proximate to current Juan Carlos I research station show that even small human settlements are an important source of PAHs to the local environment. Therefore, even though the concentrations in Antarctica are low, there is evidence of local hotspots of contamination.

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