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A toxic chemical found in toilet paper is endangering killer whale populations, according to a new study. The study says that this chemical contaminant may be responsible for the decline in the orca population.
A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia published the findings in the journal Environmental Science & Technology at the end of last year. The researchers analyzed tissue from six southern resident killer whales and six Bigg’s killer whales that were stranded along the coast of British Columbia between 2006 and 2018.
The University said that the team discovered that chemical pollutants are prevalent in killer whales. This chemical is often found in toilet paper and accounted for 46 percent of the total pollutants identified. The compound 4-nonylphenol (4NP) is used in paper processing and to make toilet paper. This substance is listed as toxic in Canada and can impact the nervous system as well as cognitive function. They found that the chemical can transfer from mother orcas to their fetuses, with researchers now wondering what impact this has on fetal development.
“It can leak into the ocean via sewage treatment plants and industrial runoffs, where it is ingested by smaller organisms and moves up the food chain to reach top predators such as killer whales,” the university said.
As of December 2020, the southern killer whale population had only 74 individuals, according to the EPA. They are listed as endangered which the EPA says is due to contaminant exposure, low salmon availability, and vessel impacts.
4NP is not well studied or regulated, but the fact that it was found so prevalent in these giant creatures means that we need to work hard to crack down on the chemical. The University is urging governments to help these endangered whales by stopping the production of these chemicals.
“This research is a wake-up call,” said Juan José Alava, co-author of the study. “Southern residents are an endangered population and it could be that contaminants are contributing to their population decline. We can’t wait to protect this species.”
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