A survey of 87 estuarine, intermediate and offshore sites was carried out between 1992 and 1995 to determine the distribution of metal and organic contaminants (including organochlorine, organophosphate and organotin pesticides) in water, sediments, shellfish and fish. The authors of the report generally paint a rosy picture of the quality of UK coastal waters.
One area of concern involves the contamination with the anti-fouling paint tributyl tin (TBT) causing imposex in dog whelks. Imposex is an abnormality in which male sexual characteristics are imposed on the genital systems of females. The female develops a penis, which may block the genital opening so that egg capsules cannot be laid, causing reproductive failure and ultimately death. The relationship between imposex and the presence of TBT associated with antifouling paints, which are used to discourage the settlement of marine organisms on boats, has been established since the late 1980s. This study confirms that imposex still exists off Northern Ireland and the British Isles.
The report recommends that future monitoring on NMP sites should include dog whelk imposex bioassays and TBT determination.
The NMP programme sought a number of organochlorines in marine fish liver, including dieldrin, aldrin, endrin and DDT. Dieldrin was detected in more than 90% of the stations for which data were reported. Highest average levels were found in the Thames Estuary (50 mg/kg) and Moray Firth off Scotland (72 mg/kg). DDT and its breakdown components DDE and TDE were also found. The highest average concentrations were detected off the north west coast of England with average levels of 15-91 mg/kg for DDE, 23-130 mg/kg for TDE and 13-28 mg/kg for DDT.
Claire Vincent, Chair of the NMPWG said: "There are no standards for pesticides in fish liver. However, according to World Health Organisation maximum residue levels, these results are within 'expected values'."
Previous studies have identified organochlorines such as toxaphene and chlordane in UK fish (see PN21 p.15, CRM41 p.5). This report, however, does not include analysis of such chemicals because adequate analytical techniques and quality control procedures have yet to be established.