Bioaccumulation WebQuest

Why Can't I Eat This Fish?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued advisories about eating fish.  Safeway and Albertsons grocery stores are posting warnings about eating fish in their stores. Your Mom quit serving you tuna sandwiches that you really liked.  

Arctic POPs are not really a new kind of frozen treat.  Thousands of man-made chemicals were used after World War II.  These chemicals controlled pests and diseases, increased crop yields and had many industrial uses.  Their effect on human health and the environment were unknown.  It was later found that many of them had harmful effects and they persisted, or stayed, in the environment for a long time.  They were classified as POPs.  Some are intentionally produced (or made for a particular purpose) and others are unintentionally produced.

Some of the well-known types of POPs are: PCB’s, dioxins and furans, and DDT.

What is happening to the fish and wildlife?
Why is it affecting you?
Why is it affecting the people and animals in the Arctic?
What is government and industry doing about it?
What can YOU do about it?

You have studied and modeled bioaccumulation of toxins in organisms.  Many people don't understand what that means.  A few people may know that some fish contain mercury, they don't really understand why.  The Arctic is a remote and pristine place, yet the concentration of toxins in the wildlife is very high.  Your job is to understand the situation and then create a poster that we you use to inform members of community about this situation. Your task will be broken into two parts:
1) You will research the issue with the help of this WebQuest. Each student will answer the questions on the worksheet as part of this research.
2) When you have finished the research, you and a partner will create a poster to inform the public.

PART I WORKSHEET: Here are the questions you will be answering through your research.The resources that will help you find these answers are documents and websites.  Attached documents are listed in GREEN and the links are at the bottom of this page.  Page numbers in the pdf document are given as seen on a pdf viewer on the computer (not printed page numbers). Websites links are listed in RED and can be clicked on directly to go to that website.

Background Information


1.      What are POPs?  Explain the acronym (abbreviation) and what are the sources of POPs.  Grannas POPs.pdf (see attachments below)

2.      What are 4 characteristics that are a main concern of POPs?  (Briefly explain each) EPA POPs.pdf page 5 (see attachments below)

3.      Where are PCB’s intentionally used? EPA POPs.pdf page 4(see attachments below)

4.      Dioxins are unintentionally produced.  What processes can produce these on a large industrial scale and what process can produce these in your backyard? EPA POPs.pdf page 4 (see attachments below)

5.      What is DDT? (You don’t need to give the name for the abbreviation, just what it is used for.)  EPA POPs.pdf page 4 (see attachments below)

6.      DDT persists in the environment. There was widespread contamination and accumulation of DDT.  Who brought this phenomenon to public attention in 1962, and how was it done? EPA POPs.pdf page 4 (see attachments below)

7.      The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took action in 1972 on DDT.  What animal species made a dramatic comeback over the years? EPA POPs.pdf page 4 (see attachments below)


8.      What are the largest human-caused sources of mercury?(Look under Mercury Sources)  EPA Mercury Sources

9.      What is the major source of mercury emissions in our country? List the 3 largest contributors of mercury in our atmosphere. Why Files Background

10.  According to the chart from the USGS, where are the concentrations of mercury emissions the greatest in our country?   Why Files USGS

Health Effects

11.  What is methylmercury? (See "Exposure to Mercury") EPA Mercury Exposure

12.  What is the main way that people are exposed to methylmercury and POPs? EPA Mercury Exposure

EPA POPs.pdf page 8 (see attachments below)

13.  What are the health effects of methylmercury and POP exposure? EPA Health Effects

EPA POPs.pdf page 8 (see attachments below)

14. What are 5 factors that determine the severity of the health effects of methylmercury and POPs? EPA Health Effects (Ignore first factor that only deals with mercury)


Polar Regions 

15.  Why does the Arctic and Antarctic have a high concentration of POPs and mercury in the environment if there are few sources of these pollutants in the Arctic or Antarctic? (see POPs are Global Travelers)   Polar Science Station


16.  What is Dr. Amanda Grannas (OASIS and Villanova University scientist) studying in Barrow, Alaska? Grannas POPs.pdf (see attachments below)

17.  What is Dr. Sandy Steffen (OASIS and Environment Canada scientist) studying in Barrow, Alaska? Steffen Mercury.doc (see attachments below)

18.  Why are indigenous (native) people in the Arctic at risk because of POPs and mercury in the environment? EPA POPs.pdf page 9,

 Grannas POPs.pdf, Steffen Mercury.doc (see attachments below)

AMAP Phase II.wmv

Traditional diets.wmv

19. Explain how beluga carcasses are handled in the St. Lawrence Estuary and why they are handled that way. Ocean Pollution


20.  What are the EPA recommendations for eating fish?  EPA Advisories

21.  What are the latest two large recreational lakes where the Arizona Game & Fish department has issued fish advisories and what are the advisories?

(scroll to the bottom of the page to get all of the advisories)

AZ G&F Advisories

Taking Action

22.  What was a step that was taken in May 2001 to reduce the POPs around the globe? EPA POPs.pdf page 3

23.  Burning coal for electricity is a large source of mercury in the environment.  What are ways that you as an individual can reduce the amount of mercury released by coal utility companies?

24.  Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain small amounts of mercury. According to the EPA why are they still a good choice to help reduce mercury in the environment? MSNBC

25.  What should you do to prevent CFLs from adding mercury to the environment?

26.  How can you prevent dioxins or other POPs from entering the environment?

POPs old and new.wmv

Extra Credit (5 pts each)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

EC#1:  From 1980-2000 there was a strong demand for brominated compounds that reduce the flammability of consumer products. According to Dr. Lebeuf's research team how does this relate to beluga whales?

EC #2: While trying to understand the beluga population's failure to increase after hunting stopped, scientists looked at the harbour porpoise in Great Britain.  What was the link between POP's (or contaminant levels) and the mortality rates of harbour porpoises?

EC #3: What is one of the resulting actions that are being taken to protect belugas in the St. Lawrence Estuary thanks to Dr. Lebeuf's work?

PART II POSTER: Students will work in groups of two to create a poster about bioaccumulation of toxins in the environment.  The requirements are listed under Evaluation Section.


There will be two grades given for this project.

Part I Worksheet
1) Worksheet (105 points): Each question in this worksheet must be answered in complete sentences. Each question is worth 5 points for a total of 100 points. Every student must hand this in individually.

Part II Poster
2) Poster (50 points). It will be graded as follows:

a) Colorful & Neat (5 points)

b) Pictures included (10 points)

c) It must include the following:

  • How do POPs and Mercury get into our environment? (5 pts)
  • How do POPs and Mercury get into wildlife and our food supply? (5 pts)
  • What are the health effects of ingesting these toxins? (5 pts)
  • What are the EPA recommendations for eating fish? (5 pts)
  • Why is the Arctic at risk? (5 pts)
  • What are the fish advisories for Arizona? (5 pts) 
  • What can we do to reduce toxins in our environment? (5 pts)
Now that  you have learned  about bioaccumulation of toxins in our environment, realize that there are many things that you as an individual can do to help. It may start with reducing your power consumption, participating in a recycling program, or contacting a legislator about relevant legislation. Everything is interconnected and your actions have consequences. What you do can help or it can hurt. You make the choice.

Persist: Stay, Linger
Produce: To make or manufacture
Toxin: A substance that is harmful to an organism.
Organism: A life form
Indigenous: Native
Intentional: Deliberate, on purpose
EPA: Environmental Protection Agency, a U.S. governmental agency that creates and enforces laws to reduce pollution and protect the environment.
FDA:  Food and Drug Administration
USGS: United States Geological Survey

Photo Credits: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Carlye Calvin UCAR, Dr. Thomas A. Douglas, Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory

Betsy Wilkening,
Jul 3, 2012, 2:10 PM
Betsy Wilkening,
Jul 6, 2009, 8:59 AM
Betsy Wilkening,
Jul 6, 2009, 8:58 AM
Betsy Wilkening,
Jul 6, 2009, 8:59 AM