What is the difference between persistent and biodegradable pollutants? (5 examples)

This article will explain the difference between biodegradable and persistent pollutants. Other covered topics would include: 

  • What differentiates pollutants?
  • What are some examples of biodegradable and persistent pollutants?
  • What is the case of persistent pollutants?
  • How are humans affected by persistent pollutants?
  • How is wildlife affected by persistent pollutants?
  • Why are biodegradable pollutants called so?
  • What are the steps taken to control pollutants?
  • FAQs

What is the difference between persistent and biodegradable pollutants?

The primary difference between persistent and biodegradable pollutants is that biodegradable pollutants can degrade by the action of microbes and are not that impacting on the environment as compared to persistent pollutants. 

Common examples of biodegradable pollutants include manure, sewage, faecal waste, wood, paper waste et cetera, 

Persistent pollutants on the other hand are not biodegradable because they are made from synthetic chemicals and procedures. One notorious example of persistent pollutants is DDT. Others include dioxins, endrins, furans, et cetera. 

Persistent pollutants are more harmful and impacting in nature because of their nature and implications. The target is not only wildlife but humans and the environment too. Owing to these effects, there are a number of control practices and treaties at play and one famous example is the Stockholm convention that was signed in 2001.

What differentiates pollutants?

A pollutant is a substance that has the capacity to cause pollution. Pollution can be defined as infiltration into the natural order. 

Anything that disturbs the harmony of nature can be called a pollutant. However, there may be several sources of pollutants. 

Just as there is a variety when it comes to the sources of pollutants, the nature and type of pollutants also vary. 

Resultantly, we have some pollutants that create more havoc than others. This discrepancy may arise from various sources and types of pollutants. Among the various types, we have persistent and biodegradable pollutants. 

As the name implies, biodegradable pollutants can degrade by the action of microbes. As a result, these pollutants will not remain in the system for a long time. 

However, as regards the persistent pollutants, this is not the case, unfortunately. Persistent pollutants, by their very nature, are not biodegradable and have the capacity to remain in the system for a long time, like some years or so. 

As can be expected, the case of persistent pollutants is a greater concern because these pollutants will keep on with the degradative effects for a longer period of time. 

What are some examples of persistent and biodegradable pollutants? (5 examples of persistent pollutants)

Let us now explore some examples of both biodegradable and persistent pollutants. 

By exploring the examples, we will get a better idea of how we are surrounded by various forms of pollutants and what necessary actions we can take to avoid them. 

As regards the examples of biodegradable pollutants, consider the following points:

  • Domestic waste
  • Urine
  • Faecal matter
  • Wood
  • Paper 
  • Animal wool
  • Agricultural waste
  • Manure
  • Sewage

All of these materials are made from or sourced from natural sources. That is why these are regarded as biodegradable pollutants. 

It is also wondered, if these materials are biodegradable, then why are these materials called pollutants?

The reason behind it is that these materials, when produced in excess or through unsustainable ways, disturb the natural harmony of nature. 

As regards persistent pollutants, the following are some common examples:

  • Dioxin
  • DDT
  • Pesticides 
  • Industrial chemicals
  • Agent Orange

As can be seen, most of these examples are sourced from synthetic chemicals and materials. 

It can be concluded that the major source of persistent pollutants is the rapid industrialisation and the burgeoning urbanisation that proceeds it. 

What is the case of persistent pollutants?

The case of persistent pollutants is worth discussing since it has taken the entire globe under its grip. 

Persistent pollutants are the type of pollutants that remain in the atmosphere and environment for a long period of time. 

That is why persistent pollutants are also called forever chemicals. The major source of these chemicals is the rapid urbanisation and industrialisation that resulted in a boom of materials such as pesticides and dioxins. 

The problem with persistent pollutants is that not only PP are long-lasting but can also move along various levels of food chains. 

To better understand the implications of persistent pollutants, let us explore the example of DDT. DDT is a pesticide that was introduced in 1940 and was used widely until the 1970s. In the 1970s it was banned when numerous health and environmental implications of DDT were found that including: 

  • Ability to bioaccumulation
  • Biomagnification
  • Eggshell thinning
  • Disruption of ecosystems
  • Infiltration into the food chains

The detrimental impacts of DDT were not only limited to the environment but were also reciprocated to human health. 

Common complications included lung diseases, respiratory conditions, vomiting, tremors, shakiness, and seizures. 

How are humans affected by persistent pollutants?

Let us discuss some of the ways in which humans are affected by persistent pollutants. One of the abilities of pollutants is to persist along the food chains. The problem is not just with the sticking around but also with the bioaccumulation and biomagnification. 

Owing to these factors, persistent pollutants are found almost everywhere. Be it the food we eat, the water we drink or the air we breathe.  Persistent pollutants are everywhere and cause a number of detrimental impacts on health that include: 

  • Cancer
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Compromised immune systems
  • Developmental issues
  • Birth defects
  • Infertility 
  • Reproductive disorders 
  • Neurological impairments
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Genotoxicity 

How is wildlife affected by pollutants?

It is studied that wildlife is greatly and drastically affected by the eminence of persistent pollutants and many abnormalities, and diseases are studied that are linked to persistent pollutants. 

Persistent pollutants such as pesticides and dioxins may introduce abnormalities such as reproductive problems, eggshell thinning, infertility, and bioaccumulation. These effects are also reciprocated at various levels of food chains. 

One aspect that further exacerbates the situation is the fact that these effects are also reciprocated by humans as well. When people eat animals, wildlife, and fishes that are affected by POPs, the people are also affected by the negative effects of it. 

In a study, it was discovered that the chances and eminence of diseases caused by POPs were greater in people with fervent exposure to wildlife and fish. This exposure lead to a number of diseases such as behavioural, endocrine, neurological, and immunologic effects.  

Why are biodegradable pollutants called so?

In order to better understand biodegradable pollutants, it is important to know what biodegradability is. Biodegradability is the breakdown of waste by the action of microbes and by the facilitation of external factors such as sunlight, aeration, temperature, pressure, et cetera. 

We have already discussed some common examples of biodegradable pollutants. You may wonder that if biodegradable pollutants have the innate capacity to degrade then why are they called pollutants?

The primary reason is that materials such as manure, sewage waste et cetera have the capacity to cause pollution or stem unhygienic conditions if left untreated and handled in the wrong ways. 

By definition, a pollutant is a substance that has the ability to disrupt the natural order. In other words, a pollutant is a substance that can harm living organisms that may include plants, animals and humans. 

It is imperative to note that biodegradable pollutants are less severe than persistent pollutants because the latter is made from synthetic chemicals that may last for many years. 

What are the steps taken by the authorities to control the pollutants?

As we have discussed that persistent pollutants are a global concern and have taken the entire world under its grip. We have also discussed the case of DDT and how it baffled the entire world when people witnessed the negative side effects of DDT on people and the planet. 

Therefore, given the context of the severity of POPs, it is also imperative to expect that there will also be a number of measures and treaties formed to control the production, use, and spread of pollutants, especially persistent pollutants.

In this regard, we have the Stockholm convention that was signed among various countries to stop and halt the production of persistent pollutants that included many dioxins and pesticides. 

The Stockholm convention was signed in 2001 wherein various countries agreed to either decline or limitise the production, use and disposal of 12 persistent pollutants. These included: 

  • aldrin 
  • chlordane 
  • dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT)
  • dieldrin
  • endrin
  • heptachlor
  • hexachlorobenzene 
  • mirex
  • toxaphene
  • polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) 
  • polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins(dioxins)
  • polychlorinated dibenzofurans (furans)

In addition to the Stockholm Convention, there also have been various efforts done by local and domestic authorities such as the EPA, Congress et cetera to either halt or limit the production of POPs, PCBs and other types of pollutants. This has helped greatly in alleviating the damages caused by persistent and biodegradable pollutants. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that the primary difference between persistent and biodegradable pollutants is that biodegradable pollutants can degrade by the action of microbes and are not that impacting on the environment as compared to persistent pollutants. 

Common examples of biodegradable pollutants include manure, sewage, faecal waste, wood, paper waste et cetera, 

Persistent pollutants on the other hand are not biodegradable because they are made from synthetic chemicals and procedures. One notorious example of persistent pollutants is DDT. Others include dioxins, endrins, furans, et cetera. 

Persistent pollutants are more harmful and impacting in nature because of their nature and implications. The target is not only wildlife but humans and the environment too. Owing to these effects, there are a number of control practices and treaties at play and one famous example is the Stockholm convention that was signed in 2001. 

Frequently Asked Questions: What is the difference between persistent and biodegradable pollutants?

What are some examples of persistent pollutants?

Some examples of persistent pollutants include:

  • Hexachlorobenzene 
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) 
  • Mirex
  • Toxaphene
  • Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins(dioxins)
  • Polychlorinated dibenzofurans (furans)

What are the health effects of pollutants?

The health effects of pollutants include behavioural, endocrine, neurological, and immunologic effects.  

References

  • Lallas, P. L. (2001). The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. American Journal of International Law, 95(3), 692-708.

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