Is Ice a Pandora’s Box for Pollution?

March 29, 2023
Researchers share how glaciers and icebergs degrade trapped pollutants faster but also introduce more toxic byproduct.

In a recent article in Wired, researchers say they have discovered that the frozen water at Earth’s poles—contrary to conventional wisdom—is a hotbed of chemical reactions. What’s trapped within may transform over time.

Instead of the cold temperatures slowing down chemical reactions, Crispin Halsall, a Lancaster University researcher in the UK, and his colleagues, discovered the opposite — pollutants in car exhaust fumes—known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — degraded faster in ice than in water when introduced to ultraviolet light.

It’s also been known since 2020 that polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or “forever chemicals” – a focus of Halsall’s team — have been found in Arctic waters.

Faster degradation of pollutants certainly can be seen as a positive, but it isn’t without warning signs: “We’ve found, for some pollutants, the products they turn into can actually be more toxic than the original,” states Amanda Grannas of Villanova University. For example, the chemical aldrin, historically used in pesticides, could transform more readily into the even more toxic chemical dieldrin in ice, she shared in Wired.

Read more on the story here.

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