02 Feb 2023
 | 02 Feb 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the Antarctic atmosphere over time (1980 to 2021) and estimation of their atmospheric half-lives.

Thais Luarte, Victoria Antonieta Gómez-Aburto, Ignacio Poblete-Castro, Eduardo Castro-Nallar, Nicolás Hunneus, Marco Molina-Montenegro, Claudia Egas, Germán Azcune, Andrés Pérez-Parada, Rainier Lohmann, Pernilla Bohlin-Nizzetto, Jordi Dachs, Susan Bengtson-Nash, Gustavo Chiang, Karla Pozo, and Cristóbal Galbán-Malagón

Abstract. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are synthetic compounds that were intentionally produced in large quantities and have been distributed in the global environment, originating a threat due to their persistence, bioaccumulative potential and toxicity. POPs reach the Antarctic continent through long-range atmospheric transport. In these areas low temperatures play a significant role in the environmental fate of POPs, retaining them for a long-time due to cold trapping by diffusion and wet deposition, acting as net sink for many POPs. However, in the current context of climate change, remobilization of POPs trapped for decades in water, ice, and soil, is happening. Therefore, continuous monitoring of POPs in polar air is necessary to assess whether there is a recent re-release of historical pollutants back to the environment. We reviewed the scientific literature on atmospheric levels of several POPs families (polychlorinated biphenyls PCBs, hexachlorobenzene HCB, hexachlorocyclohexanes HCHs, and DDT) from 1988 to 2021. We estimated the atmospheric half-life using characteristic decreasing times (TD). We observed that HCB levels in the Antarctic atmosphere were higher than the other target OCs, but HCB also displayed higher fluctuations and did not show a significant decrease over time. Conversely, the atmospheric levels of HCHs, and some,DDTs, and PCBs have decreased significantly. The estimated atmospheric half-lives for POPs decreased in the following order: 4,4’ DDE (13.5 years) > 4,4’ DDD (12.8 years) > 4,4’ DDT (7.4 years) > 2,4’ DDE (6.4 years) > 2,4’ DDT (6.3 years) > α-HCH (6 years) > HCB (6 years) > γ-HCH (4.2 years), while for PCB congeners they decreased in the following order: PCB 153 (7.6 years) > PCB 138 (6.5 years) > PCB 101 (4.7 years) > PCB 180 (4.6 years) > PCB 28 (4 years) > PCB 52 (3.7 years) > PCB 118 (3.6 years). For HCH isomers and PCBs, the Stockholm Convention ban on POPs did have an impact on decreasing their levels during the last decades. Nevertheless, their ubiquity in the Antarctic atmosphere shows the problematic issues related to highly persistent synthetic chemicals.

Thais Luarte et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on acp-2023-25', Anonymous Referee #1, 25 Feb 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on acp-2023-25', Anonymous Referee #2, 28 Feb 2023

Thais Luarte et al.

Thais Luarte et al.


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Short summary
In the last 40 years different research groups have reported on the atmospheric concentrations of persistent organic pollutants in Antarctica. In the present work we make a compilation to understand the historical trends. We estimate the atmospheric half-life of each compound. Of all the compounds studied HCB was the only one that showed no clear trend, while the rest of the studied compounds showed a significant decrease over time. This is consistent with results for polar and sub-polar zones.