Food Web–Specific Biomagnification of Persistent Organic Pollutants

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Science  13 Jul 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5835, pp. 236-239
DOI: 10.1126/science.1138275

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Substances that accumulate to hazardous levels in living organisms pose environmental and human-health risks, which governments seek to reduce or eliminate. Regulatory authorities identify bioaccumulative substances as hydrophobic, fat-soluble chemicals having high octanol-water partition coefficients (KOW)(≥100,000). Here we show that poorly metabolizable, moderately hydrophobic substances with a KOW between 100 and 100,000, which do not biomagnify (that is, increase in chemical concentration in organisms with increasing trophic level) in aquatic food webs, can biomagnify to a high degree in food webs containing air-breathing animals (including humans) because of their high octanol-air partition coefficient (KOA) and corresponding low rate of respiratory elimination to air. These low KOW–high KOA chemicals, representing a third of organic chemicals in commercial use, constitute an unidentified class of potentially bioaccumulative substances that require regulatory assessment to prevent possible ecosystem and human-health consequences.

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