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National park turtles loaded with now-banned toxins, demonstrating how the long life of chemical exposure can poison the environment

Freshwater turtles

(NaturalNews) Some of the most health-destructive chemicals our industrial society has ever pumped out (such as PCBs) are persisting in the environment today, bio-accumulating throughout nature. Even though PCBs are banned to this day, they can still be measured in the air, soil and water, adversely affecting all life. These man-made contaminants are still being found in watersheds, historic mines and mills. The most recent discovery in Sequoia National Park shows just how awfully pervasive these chemicals are. PCBs and PAHs are now being found in the plasma of western pond turtles, in remote wild lands.

Banned in 1979, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were primarily manufactured by Monsanto for use in plasticizers, lubricants, fluorescent lights, hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids and electrical components. These oily liquids are hard to recognize once they break down in nature. They have no smell or taste and are clear to yellow in color. They bind very well with soil and sediment and survive extreme temperature and pressure.

Banned PCBs are present in California turtles today

According to the National Park Service and the University of California, Davis, PCBs can now be measured in the plasma of western pond turtles (Emys marmorata) sampled at the Sequoia National Park and other wild lands, including Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and Six Rivers National Forest.

Not only are PCBs contaminating the makeup of western pond turtles, but PAHs have also been detected as well. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals that form during the incomplete burning of coal, oil and gas. They are primarily found in coal tar, which is the basis from which many dyes, plastics, pesticides and pharmaceuticals are made. PAHs are prevalent in creosote, vehicle exhaust and roofing tar.

In the National Park Service-led study, researchers collected western pond turtles, their prey, and habitat items from several National Park sites. Then they tested for a variety of semi-volatile organic compounds (SOCs) of current and historic use, including 57 current-use pesticides, PCBs and PAHs. Since western pond turtles live 50 years or more, they are a perfect indicator of the persistence of environmental contamination through the decades.

The evidence of pesticide, PCB and PAH bio-accumulation is concerning

The researchers found a wide variety of SOCs in turtle plasma and in the region's macroinvertebrates. Since Sequoia National Park is directly downwind of Central Valley agriculture, pesticide levels were high in the prey and habitat items that the turtles interact with.

Overall PCBs were most prevalent in turtle samples taken from Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Most sediment samples downwind from agricultural sites contained a disturbing mixture of SOCs, including nine pesticides. The insects, snails and mollusks that turtles eat also frequently tested positive for a variety of SOCs. The area with the least contamination was the area most secluded from the downwind contamination of industrial and agricultural sites.

The study shows that even the most protected National Parks are being exposed to a cocktail of chemicals and pesticides that affect the survival of various species of insects, invertebrates, amphibians and animals. Scientists are still investigating the rapid disappearance of Sequoia National Park's foothill yellow-legged frog, which was physiologically impaired by pesticides and persistent chemicals.

"Pesticides don't recognize boundaries," said co-author Brian Todd, a UC Davis associate professor of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology. "Even though we think of National Parks as being protected from conservation threats like development, they're not immune from pesticides and global contaminants that cross park borders."

The researchers also pointed out that the interactions of another 900 active ingredients in the ecosystem are not well understood and are a direct result of several years' worth of industrial agricultural chemicals combining.

"We need more information on how these compounds interact and how they affect non-target organisms," Todd said. "Then we can continue to refine the types of pesticides used so they have fewer and fewer unintended consequences."

Pesticides and other toxins can also be found in drinking water supplies across America. Visit EPAwatch.org today to find out how to inspect the quality of your drinking water.

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