Major Environmental Issues of Climate Change: Environmental Science Study of the Toxic Effects of Global Warming

Major Environmental Issues of Climate Change: Environmental Science Study of the Toxic Effects of Global Warming

Three classes of toxins and their role in climate change, “…induced by anthropogenic [effects of human activities] warming of the earth’s atmosphere…” where the focus of an environmental study by the Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program of Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. The broad categories of the toxins listed in the Duke study article are air pollution, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and pesticides.

The article, published April 16, 2009, on the ScienceDirect website is titled, “The Toxicology of Climate Change: Environmental Contaminants in a Warming World.” The review (abstract) article, and study outline, is available for reading free of charge. The full study can be purchased from a link on the ScienceDirect article page. The Duke article addresses the major toxic issues related to the environment, wildlife, and human health due to climate change.

All of the contributing authors of the study are associated with the Duke University Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program. Some of the contributing authors are additionally associated with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Triangle Park. NC. USA. The authors are:

  • Pamela D. Noyesa.
  • Matthew K. McElweea.
  • Hilary D. Millera.
  • Bryan W. Clark.
  • Lindsey A. Van Tiema.
  • Kia C. Walcotta.
  • Kyle N. Erwina.
  • Edward D. Levina.

Study Lists Environmental Problems

Information for the Duke study came from reviewing scientific research articles, reviews, and government reports. The article theme is “…the interactions of toxicants with…temperature, precipitation, and salinity, as altered by climate change.”

The Duke University Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program “…provides students with the theoretical and practical foundation for research and teaching in Toxicology.” The students have access to laboratories of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


The Duke article reports when the environment warms, the temperature increases enhance “toxicity of contaminants,” increase ozone concentrations, and “likely increase rates of chemical degradation.” Increased temperature affects the health of wildlife, and warmer water temperatures could alter the “ bio-transformation of contaminants to more bio-active metabolites [small molecules that control growth, development, and reproduction] and impair homeostasis [internal system that regulates to maintain a stable, constant condition].”

Effects of Water Pollution & Air Pollution

When climate change causes less precipitation in areas the “enhanced volatilization of POPs [persistent organic pollutants] and pesticides” will occur in the atmosphere. POPs are “organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation,” according to the Wikipedia Encyclopedia. POPs include pesticides and “intentional or byproducts of industrial processes.” The Duke article states that less rain will increase air pollution in urbanized areas, but may increase human health problems such as heart respiratory disease.

In areas that experience increased rainfall, or storm events, air pollution will be diminished, however, the areas may experience more “surface deposition of airborne POPs,” and increased pesticide contamination due to runoff from polluted land areas.

Changes in salinity (increased salt content in water) may have an effect on “aquatic organisms as an independent stressors…altering bio-availability…increasing toxicity of [toxic] chemicals,” states the Duke article.

Current Environmental Issues

A vital, timely issue is the identification of “species and populations” that will be vulnerable to “climate-pollutant” change. The Duke article concludes by stressing the need for the identification of living organisms most vulnerable to climate change. The identification should be based within the context of physical, biological, and chemical “stressors that will be altered…” The article advocates additional research about the prediction of “tipping points” that could cause or hasten “synergistic interactions between climate change and contaminant exposures.”

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