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Journal: Reviews of environmental contamination and toxicology


Mercury is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant known to accumulate in, and negatively affect, fish-eating and oceanic bird species, and recently demonstrated to impact some terrestrial songbirds to a comparable extent. It can bioaccumulate to concentrations of >1 μg/g in tissues of prey organisms such as fish and insects. At high enough concentrations, exposure to mercury is lethal to birds. However, environmental exposures are usually far below the lethal concentrations established by dosing studies.The objective of this review is to better understand the effects of sublethal exposure to mercury in birds. We restricted our survey of the literature to studies with at least some exposures <5 μg/g. The majority of sublethal effects were subtle and some studies of similar endpoints reached different conclusions. Strong support exists in the literature for the conclusion that mercury exposure reduces reproductive output, compromises immune function, and causes avoidance of high-energy behaviors. For some endpoints, notably certain measures of reproductive success, endocrine and neurological function, and body condition, there is weak or contradictory evidence of adverse effects and further study is required. There was no evidence that environmentally relevant mercury exposure affects longevity, but several of the sublethal effects identified likely do result in fitness reductions that could adversely impact populations. Overall, 72% of field studies and 91% of laboratory studies found evidence of deleterious effects of mercury on some endpoint, and thus we can conclude that mercury is harmful to birds, and the many effects on reproduction indicate that bird population declines may already be resulting from environmental mercury pollution.

Concepts: Immune system, Organism, Bird, Affect, Mercury, Biomagnification, Conclusion, Mercury poisoning


The insecticide methomyl, an oxime carbamate, was first introduced in 1968 for broad spectrum control of several insect classes, including Lepidoptera, Hemiptera, Homoptera, Diptera, and Coleoptera. Like other carbamates, it inhibits AChE activity, resulting in nerve and/or tissue failure and possibly death. Considered highly toxic to insects (larval and adult stages), methomyl is thought to be metabolically degraded via mixed-function oxidase(s). Methomyl has both a low vapor pressure and Henry’s law constant; hence, volatilization is not a major dissipation route from either water or moist or dry soils. Photolysis represents a minor dissipation pathway; however, under catalytic conditions, degradation via photolysis does occur. Methomyl possesses a moderate-to-high water solubility; thus hydrolysis, under alkaline conditions, represents a major degradation pathway. Methomyl has a low-to-moderate sorption capacity to soil. Although results may vary with soil type and organic matter content, methomyl is unlikely to persist in complex soils. Methomyl is more rapidly degraded by microbes, and bacterial species have been identified that are capable of using methomyl as a carbon and/or nitrogen source. The main degradation products of methomyl from both abiotic and biotic processes are methomyl oxime, acetonitrile, and CO₂. Methomyl is moderately to highly toxic to fishes and very highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates. Methomyl is highly toxic orally to birds and mammals. Methomyl is classed as being highly toxic to humans via oral exposures, moderately toxic via inhalation, and slightly toxic via dermal exposure. At relatively high doses, it can be fatal to humans. Although methomyl has been widely used to treat field crops and has high water solubility, it has only infrequently been detected as a contaminant of water bodies in the USA. It is classified as a restricted-use insecticide because of its toxicity to multiple nontarget species. To prevent nontarget species toxicity or the possibility of contamination, as with all pesticides, great care should be taken when applying methomyl-containing products for agricultural, residential, or other uses.

Concepts: Bacteria, Insect, Nitrogen, Vapor pressure, Insecticide, Partial pressure, Henry's law, Raoult's law


We identify uncertainties and knowledge gaps of chemical risk assessment related to unconventional drillings and propose adaptations. We discuss how chemical risk assessment in the context of unconventional oil and gas (UO&G) activities differs from conventional chemical risk assessment and the implications for existing legislation. A UO&G suspect list of 1,386 chemicals that might be expected in the UO&G water samples was prepared which can be used for LC-HRMS suspect screening. We actualize information on reported concentrations in UO&G-related water. Most information relates to shale gas operations, followed by coal-bed methane, while only little is available for tight gas and conventional gas. The limited research on conventional oil and gas recovery hampers comparison whether risks related to unconventional activities are in fact higher than those related to conventional activities. No study analyzed the whole cycle from fracturing fluid, flowback and produced water, and surface water and groundwater. Generally target screening has been used, probably missing contaminants of concern. Almost half of the organic compounds analyzed in surface water and groundwater exceed TTC values, so further risk assessment is needed, and risks cannot be waived. No specific exposure scenarios toward groundwater aquifers exist for UO&G-related activities. Human errors in various stages of the life cycle of UO&G production play an important role in the exposure. Neither at the international level nor at the US federal and the EU levels, specific regulations for UO&G-related activities are in place to protect environmental and human health. UO&G activities are mostly regulated through general environmental, spatial planning, and mining legislation.

Concepts: Water, Risk, Petroleum, Aquifer, Groundwater, Risk management, Natural gas, Oil shale


Tributyltin (TBT) has been recognized as an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) for several decades. However, only in the last decade, was its primary endocrine mechanism of action (MeOA) elucidated-interactions with the nuclear retinoid-X receptor (RXR), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ), and their heterodimers. This molecular initiating event (MIE) alters a range of reproductive, developmental, and metabolic pathways at the organism level. It is noteworthy that a variety of MeOAs have been proposed over the years for the observed endocrine-type effects of TBT; however, convincing data for the MIE was provided only recently and now several researchers have confirmed and refined the information on this MeOA. One of the most important lessons learned from years of research on TBT concerns apparent species sensitivity. Several aspects such as the rates of uptake and elimination, chemical potency, and metabolic capacity are all important for identifying the most sensitive species for a given chemical, including EDCs. For TBT, much of this was discovered by trial and error, hence important relationships and important sensitive taxa were not identified until several decades after its introduction to the environment. As recognized for many years, TBT-induced responses are known to occur at very low concentrations for molluscs, a fact that has more recently also been observed in fish species. This review explores the MeOA and effects of TBT in different species (aquatic molluscs and other invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals) according to the OECD Conceptual Framework for Endocrine Disruptor Testing and Assessment (CFEDTA). The information gathered on biological effects that are relevant for populations of aquatic animals was used to construct Species Sensitivity Distributions (SSDs) based on No Observed Effect Concentrations (NOECs) and Lowest Observed Effect Concentrations (LOECs). Fish appear at the lower end of these distributions, showing that they are as sensitive as molluscs, and for some species, even more sensitive. Concentrations in the range of 1 ng/L for water exposure (10 ng/g for whole-body burden) have been shown to elicit endocrine-type responses, whereas mortality occurs at water concentrations ten times higher. Current screening and assessment methodologies as compiled in the OECD CFEDTA are able to identify TBT as a potent endocrine disruptor with a high environmental risk for the original use pattern. If those approaches had been available when TBT was introduced to the market, it is likely that its use would have been regulated sooner, thus avoiding the detrimental effects on marine gastropod populations and communities as documented over several decades.

Concepts: Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor, Organism, Endocrinology, Nuclear receptor, Endocrine system, Endocrine disruptor, DDT, Theo Colborn


Lead is a persistent inorganic environmental pollutant that affects humans and animals worldwide. Avian species are especially susceptible to lead exposure through consumption of lead ammunition, lead fishing tackle, and other contaminated food sources such as aquatic species ingesting lead contaminated sediments in mining areas. Even with government regulations on the use of lead ammunition in many countries, including the United States, terrestrial, aquatic, predatory, and scavenger avian species are still at risk of exposure to potentially lethal concentrations of lead. The toxicities seen in these avian species include increased oxidative stress and decreased anti-oxidant enzymes in hepatic and renal tissue. The avian immune system is also a target of lead and displays a number of altered functions suggestive of immune suppression; however, studies in wildlife and laboratory species remain too limited for definitive statements with regard to population risk. In contrast, lead clearly inhibits reproductive capabilities in adult birds, and alters growth and development of hatchlings. Environmental remediation for lead removal, which would lower toxic exposure in wildlife, presently is a monumental and prohibitively expensive effort. Wildlife exposure will therefore continue in contaminated areas, necessitating development of new remediation practices. These plans should aim toward limiting more widespread or heavier contamination of wildlife habitats. This chapter reviews presently available information of lead toxicity in wild bird species, and suggests continued monitoring and reduction strategies to reduce lead exposure for at-risk avian populations.

Concepts: Immune system, Biodiversity, Bird, Toxicology, Pollution, Toxicity, Soil contamination, Lead poisoning


Oxidative stress is a pathological process related to not only animal kingdom but also plants. Regarding oxidative stress in plants, heavy metals are frequently discussed as causative stimuli with relevance to ecology. Because heavy metals have broad technological importance, they can easily contaminate the environment. Much of previous effort regarding the harmful impact of the heavy metals was given to their toxicology in the animals and humans. Their implication in plant pathogeneses is less known and remains underestimated.The current paper summarizes basic facts about heavy metals, their distribution in soil, mobility, accumulation by plants, and initiation of oxidative stress including the decline in basal metabolism. The both actual and frontier studies in the field are summarized and discussed. The major pathophysiological pathways are introduced as well and link between heavy metals toxicity and their ability to initiate an oxidative damage is provided. Mobility and bioaccessibility of the metals is also considered as key factors in their impact on oxidative stress development in the plant. The metals like lead, mercury, copper, cadmium, iron, zinc, nickel, vanadium are depicted in the text.Heavy metals appear to be significant contributors to pathological processes in the plants and oxidative stress is probably an important contributor to the effect. The most sensitive plant species are enlisted and discussed in this review. The facts presented here outline next effort to investigate pathological processes in the plants.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Iron, Oxidative phosphorylation, Toxicology, Zinc, Copper, Lead, Heavy metal music



“Polyalkylene glycol” is the name given to a broad class of synthetic organic chemicals which are produced by polymerization of one or more alkylene oxide (epoxide) monomers, such as ethylene oxide (EO) and propylene oxide (PO), with various initiator substances which possess amine or alcohol groups. A generalization of this polymerization reaction is illustrated in Fig. 1.

Concepts: Oxygen, Monomer, Alkene, Polyurethane, Ethylene, Polymerization, Monomers, Epoxide


Fine particulate matter (PM) in the ambient air is implicated in a variety of human health issues throughout the globe. Regulation of fine PM in the atmosphere requires information on the dimension of the problem with respect to variations in concentrations and sources. To understand the current status of fine particles in the atmosphere and their potential harmful health effects in different regions of the world this review article was prepared based on peer-reviewed scientific papers, scientific reports, and database from government organizations published after the year 2000 to evaluate the global scenario of the PM2.5 (particles <2.5 μm in aerodynamic diameter), its exceedance of national and international standards, sources, mechanism of toxicity, and harmful health effects of PM2.5 and its components. PM2.5 levels and exceedances of national and international standards were several times higher in Asian countries, while levels in Europe and USA were mostly well below the respective standards. Vehicular traffic has a significant influence on PM2.5 levels in urban areas; followed by combustion activities (biomass, industrial, and waste burning) and road dust. In urban atmosphere, fine particles are mostly associated with different health effects with old aged people, pregnant women, and more so children being the most susceptible ones. Fine PM chemical constituents severely effect health due to their carcinogenic or mutagenic nature. Most of the research indicated an exceedance of fine PM level of the standards with a diverse array of health effects based on PM2.5 chemical constituents. Emission reduction policies with epidemiological studies are needed to understand the benefits of sustainable control measures for fine PM mitigation.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Particulate, Air pollution, Volcano, Dust, Particulates


In recent times there has been remarkable development in the field of soil ecotoxicology and risk assessment (RA) models. It is, however, debatable if these RA models are robust representatives for worldwide relevance. In order to investigate this, the current overview aims to address heavy metal threats to soil life in southern Africa by investigating present knowledge and consequences for RA using research in southern Africa as a case. To this end, the focus is on southern African soils, soil life and living conditions. To critically discuss these issues, we report on extensive research conducted in the southern African context and looked how comparable these findings are to RA models employed in the western world. This is done by providing an inventory of selected studies focused on the ecotoxicity of metals towards soil life. It is concluded that there is a dearth of information on southern African soil life, most of which are laboratory-based studies carried out by a handful of researchers. Future research incorporating the available information into a soil ecosystem assessment procedure is paramount. It is recommended that a starting point to tackle this might be the development of holistic sight-specific guidelines for ecological risk assessment at larger spatial scales (km2) which takes into cognizance landscapes, vegetation and faunal characteristics.