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Impact of Chemicals on the Environment, Animals and Humans’ Health. Case Study: Le Rhône

Autor:   •  February 20, 2019  •  2,287 Words (10 Pages)  •  43 Views

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Consumption of PCB-contaminated foods is the most significant route of exposure to PCBs for the general human population. This exposure occurs as a result of bioaccumulation of PCBs through the food chain. For example, PCBs can enter the aquatic food web via uptake by benthic invertebrates that are in close contact with the contaminated sediments. These invertebrates are eaten by other aquatic organisms, such as fish, and thus the PCBs migrate up the food.[pic 1]

Thus, the contamination of waters by PCB, doesn’t have a real/direct impact on the environment but since it goes up to the food chain it contaminates all the animals in contact with it and finally it can contaminate humans.

Today’s situation of the Rhône

[pic 2][pic 3][pic 4][pic 5][pic 6]

Polluted sites by PCB in the region of the Rhône

This map shows how the different factories are still very present in the region of the Rhône. The Rhône is also surrounded by big cities like Lyon, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne which explains the concentration of factories and so the high level of pollution.

Before the decree of 1987 that made prohibited the use of PCB, there were absolutely no regulations on the usage of PCB. So, basically during approximately 60 years there were no limit in the use of PCB which had a real impact on the environment on a long term basis. This pollution also comes from the industrial history of the Region Rhône-Alpes which was the second most important industrial region in France at the time.

But since 1987, several actions have been taking place:

- regularly tests on the water have been implemented

- constitution of a workgroup which reunite every parties, administrative and industrial

- prohibition of consumption, that have been extended overtime. Today, this prohibition starts upstream of Lyon to the Mediterranean Sea.

However, this kind of control that need the PCB is difficult to implement completely. Today, most of the industries stopped to use PCB or are highly restricted there are still several industries suspected to discharge a lot of PCB in the soil and the water. Also, there are other sources of PCB that are not being assessed like the domestic ones or sewage treatment plants[3].[pic 7][pic 8]

Thus in this case, the activity of some industries is contaminating the water for other actors around the Rhône which can be linked to the concept of tragedy of the commons.

The tragedy of the common refers to the rational user, that whilst using a resource does not care about the costs that arise from the user’s behaviour, which are being imposed to others. In this case the industries are not using the water directly, but they are using so much PCB that it is spreading in the nature and penalized the others: fishermen, animals, population around the Rhône. The problem with this case is that we figured out the toxicity of PCB in the water after 50 years of use. So before that we can assume that there used to be no regulations or rules for the use of PCB and therefore no intend to protect the environment.

Moreover, the professional fishermen are penalized. The contamination of the aquatic ecosystems by PCB let to serious consequences for the fishing sector.

Indeed, it is forbidden to consume the fish form the Rhône but it is allowed to fish which means that the fishermen need to put the fish back in the water.[4] Basically, the only fishing allowed is the recreational fishing. In that case, the professional fishermen can’t make any profit but they also can’t declare bankruptcy and they still need to pay their charges.

“We depend on the Ministry of Agriculture when it comes with sanitary quality of fishes and the sustainable development, because we are supposed to protect the quality of waters. Yet, by liquidating the professional fishermen in fresh water, they liquidate the guards of the river for the benefits of pollutants.” (Fisherman of the Rhône – “Le Rhône pollué par les PCB: un Tchernobyl français”).

With this statement we can cleary identidy a negative externality for the professional fishermen. In order to assess a valid computation of the costs and benefits for the whole economy, we must internalize the externalities associated with individual industries. In this situation, the PCB pollution would be a negative production externality for the commercial fisheries. It is a factor which directly and negatively affects their production but cannot be traded on the open market, i.e., a factor the fisherman has no control over.

At the time of the pollution there were poorly defined property rights stating that the fisherman had a right to clean water.

In this case the increase in the cost of fishing associated with an increase in pollution is a social cost. In a simple model of Plant A emitting PCB's that affected Plant B and Plant C's production, we would calculate the efficient output levels of PCB's so to maximize the sum of the profits for all involved - that is, minimizing the total social cost of the pollution.

PCB pollution is also a negative externality for the population that can’t consume fish from the Rhône anymore. Also, that kind of pollution lead part of the population to consume substitution product. For example, in the region Rhône-Alpes, 25% of the population is buying water in bottles because of the pollution. It is indeed a negative externality because the pollution results from the activity of the other agents and has an impact on the population of these regions, it forces the people to modify their behaviour.

Also, as said before, PCB is contaminating the environment in general. It is first contaminating the sediment then the fishes are getting contaminating by eating these sediments and then the birds… etc. It is going up on the food chain and making sick several animals, not only the fish. It is damaging several ecosystems at the cost of the population.

National action plan for the Rhône against the PCB[5] (2011-2013):

An action plan the Rhône was implemented to reduce in half the discharges of pollutants in the Rhône in ten years. The effort concerns particularly the rejections of the water-treatment plants of Lyon, which represent between 50 and 70 % of the flow of rejected metals (arsenic, chromium, copper, nickel, lead, zinc, ...). This plan the Rhône has two key objectives: fight against the various

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