Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Flood of New Toxins

By Staff

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

New contaminants that are more toxic than heavy metals are finding their way into the world’s rivers, lakes, groundwater and drinking water, an international expert in environmental chemistry has warned.

The new toxins arise from sources such as artificial sweeteners, nanomaterials, perfumes, medical drugs, hormones, sunscreens, flame retardants, non-stick coatings, pesticide breakdown products, hospital wastes and the by-products of detergents, disinfectants and swimming pool cleansers.

Left undetected and untreated, they can be hazardous to humans, with some already linked to conditions such as cancer, obesity, lower intelligence and infertility, Dr Susan Richardson of the University of South Carolina told the CleanUp 2015 conference in Melbourne.

“The world is no longer dealing with the ‘same old, same old’ contaminants,” she explains. “The list of new ones keeps growing, with ionic liquids and prions being among the most recent.” Ionic liquids are used as “green chemistry” to replace traditional solvents in cleaning products, but their effects are still largely unknown.

Prions – molecules that are highly resistant to disinfection – are known to cause “mad cow disease”, chronic wasting disease in deer and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease as well as kuru in humans.

“Algal toxins are also an increasing concern,” Richardson says. “An algal bloom...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.