Contaminants and pollutants

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Within Europe and globally, there needs to be recognition of increasing interactions between various pollutants and climate change. There is the specific issue of nutrients, eutrophication and climate change; and the broader issue of the interaction between contaminants and climate change. All these pollutants impact ecosystem and human health. These comments focus on these health impacts.

The interaction between contaminants and climate change, whether heavy metals, hydrocarbons or emerging new contaminants is already pertinent for the circumpolar Arctic, and addressed in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Scientific Report. The pathways of transport for these contaminants may change and increase under climate change: i.e., flooding, changes in sea ice and snow, and changes of precipitation. Increased sea temperatures can result in greater uptake of certain pollutants like heavy metals in shellfish, fish, and marine mammals, with related impacts on human health. From circum-arctic research, it is known that pathways by which contaminants enter the ecosystems and the food web may shift as air and water circulation shifts. Higher temperatures can also result in increased rates in absorption of contaminants into fish and shellfish, thus affecting ecosystem and human health (Arctic Monitoring Assessment Program, www.amap.no).

Though this research initiated in the Arctic, it is pertinent and applicable to other areas of the world, including Europe. This situation with pollutants is exacerbated when contamination is ongoing, or when historically contaminated terrestrial and coastal lands are not remediated or cleaned. The relationship between contaminants and climate change may be especially pertinent for the Mediterranean which is experiencing significant temperature increases and changes in precipitation, and which has natural concentrations of heavy metals, unremediated deposits of contaminants from prior and ongoing human activity, and receives large volumes of airborne pollutants from other regions. There are also existing and high levels of land based and coastal pollution around the Baltic and Black Seas. Similar concerns exist for the Arabian and Caribbean Seas, the Gulf of Mexico, the Indian Ocean and the Russian Arctic. So there are European and global possibilities for cooperation on this issue.

Though it is not addressed in detail here, invasive terrestrial, coastal and marine species also need to be considered for their impact on human and ecosystem health. The risk from micro-organisms, whether bacterial, fungal and viral, will increase under climate change. Traditional and innovative pathways of transport will develop and increase, and temperature will cease to be a barrier for survival and propagation of these organisms. For example, air and marine transport, international immigration, and tourism could facilitate the movement of aquatic and terrestrial organisms from tropical countries to the warming lands and waters of Europe. This risk has not yet been adequately considered within Europe. Initial studies suggest that the transfer of more southern diseases is already occurring for the beaches of Portugal, and Mediterranean studies are being proposed.