Biomagnification: Processes, Effects, More Conducive Substances

The biomagnificationIt is a process in which chemical substances increase their levels of presence within the body of some predatory organism. They talk about predators, since the higher an organism is in the food chain, the greater the amount of chemicals it can accumulate inside its body. 

It is important to know bioaccumulation, a process that refers only to the fact that chemicals accumulate within a body. Biomagnification then tells us about how bioaccumulation occurs from predator to predator. A linear process that goes up even to reach human beings.

Persistent chemicals are the main responsible for generating these processes within living beings. It is called “persistent substance“To those that do not dissolve easily neither in the external environment nor through the metabolic process of an organism.

It is precisely this ability to be preserved over time that makes chemicals highly concentrated within the living beings that consume them.

Biomagnification process

Biomagnification begins to be generated from beings as predators, once they start hunting for prey with cases of bioaccumulation. In this way, the concentration of chemicals within a living organism begins to magnify as the food chain progresses. Each predator is capable of containing a quantity of chemicals greater than those that accumulate within its hunted prey.

Mercury is usually one of the substances most present in bioaccumulation and subsequent biomagnification.

In aquatic environments, for example, smaller organisms like plankton may be the first to consume mercury as sediment from the seabed. This would be the first case of bioaccumulation in a new chain. 

The plankton will then be consumed by small animals, which will become prey for larger fish and the latter will also be eaten by a larger predator.

This is how the bioaccumulation of mercury will go from small animals to larger ones, resulting in biomagnification.

The substances most conducive to biomagnification

As mentioned above, bioaccumulation and biomagnification are produced by substances of a persistent nature. A chemical can be classified as persistent when it is able to survive an average time of two months, in water, soils or sediments.

In contrast, if the chemical is in the air, the required subsistence average is two days and up.

There are cases in which a chemical can be considered as very persistent and that is when it is able to remain in water, soil or sediment for more than 6 months, even extending to years.

In biomagnification, the living things most affected are those higher up the food chain. This includes large animals and humans.

Thus, indirectly, the consumption of chemicals can cause damage to any living being. Most of the toxic substances come from waste from industrial and even domestic sectors. In most cases, the high amount of waste that is generated in these two areas ends up in the sea.

Chemicals involved in everyday life

Various studies have focused on identifying persistent chemicals and the way they are used by industry. It should be noted that many of these substances are found in articles of daily use for people. Among some toxic agents with high rates of persistence and bioaccumulative character, the following can be mentioned:

Decabromodiphenyl Ether (DecaBDE)

Frequently used as a flame retardant, it is found in textiles, building materials, and in transportation structures such as airplanes or buses. Its uses can be of help when it comes to preventing fires and accidents, but they are responsible for damage to the environment.

Hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD)

As far as commercial presence is concerned, it is part of some pesticides, algaecides for swimming pools and fumigants.

Many of the ways in which the influence of these chemicals in the environment can be alleviated have to do with the information available about them. This can help regulate its uses and reduce damage by some percentage.

Health Effects of Chemicals

It is estimated that for more than 50 years the chemical industry has been responsible for the presence of more than 100,000 types of substances in the environment. Chemical absorption can occur through the air, direct food intake, and even through the skin.

Many studies have been carried out to determine the direct relationship of the bioaccumulation of toxic substances with the appearance of diseases.

Although irrefutable evidence is not yet found in all cases today, researchers have found a certain amount of data regarding the increase in autoimmune diseases and cognitive problems in people.

Many toxic chemicals have become part of everyday life without having fully evaluated the possible adverse effects they can cause. For example, chemicals have been shown to affect the normal function of the immune system. In this sense, infants are the most vulnerable, because an essential part of the human body’s immune system develops during childhood. 

Chemicals are also associated with neurodegenerative diseases. For example, Parkinson’s disease has been associated with exposure to tobacco smoke and pesticide products.

In this way, bioaccumulation and biomagnification pose a risk to life in general, affecting animals in the first instance and possibly humans in the long term.

Part of the problems that arise when making a direct relationship between the effect of a chemical with a disease is that the latter could appear long after the start of bioaccumulation of the chemical within an organism.


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