Fate of Organic Chemicals in the Environment

It is practically impossible to predict the fate of a potentially toxic chemical when it enters the natural environment. However, continued postdisposal chemical and biological monitoring of such toxic chemical may provide information on its fate in that environment. Under some conditions, if a chemical accumulates in an environment, then chemical monitoring may detect and provide an early warning. Biological monitoring is biological assessment of exposed organisms in order to detect adverse effects, which may indicate their exposure to the levels of toxicity due to such substances in their environment. Species diversity may be reduced due to increase in pollution. Rare species particularly those that are sensitive to chemical contamination could be wiped out completely, which is detrimental to the overall ecological balance in the ecosystem. The classical example of ecotoxicological biological monitoring is the observation of declining populations of birds that led to the discovery of the food chain biomagnification of dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) and its effects on eggshell thickness and reproductive failure. Death of honeybees reported by beekeepers may be an early warning sign of excessive use of pesticide. Different species of lichens have different sensitivities to sulfur dioxide and their environmental distribution reflects the pollution load of the gas in the environment.

Volatilization and atmospheric transport are the major processes responsible for distributing synthetic organic chemicals throughout the biosphere. In surface and ground-water, the chemical is transported in soluble form, adsorbed to particles or the chemical may move through the food chain. The major sinks are the atmosphere, soils, sediments, oceans, and highest members of the given food chain.

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