Science News

Toxic Chemicals Are Causing Cancer in Whales

Sun, 10th Mar 2002

Part of the show Joe Herbert discusses the Brain, Stress and Depression

It turns out that high levels of toxic chemicals in seawater are causing cancers the develop in Whales. (that's the animal, not the country !) About 2% of marine mammals, including whales, die from intestinal cancers, but scientists studying a population of Beluga Whales living in St. Lawrence, Quebec, have found intestinal cancers in almost 25% of dead whales that they have examined. The small community of 650 whales lives in a region of St. Lawrence which is downstream of a large aluminium plant that produces high levels of toxic substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These substances are well known to cause cancer and are also found in cigarette smoke. The whales are placed at risk because they dig around in the sediments, where these toxins collect, looking for food. So is it only the whales that are at risk? Apparently not - people living in the same area also have higher levels of intestinal and urinary cancers, compared with people living elsewhere in the country.

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