Scientists Discover Plastic Chemicals in Arctic Bird Eggs

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. flexible / ˈflɛksəbəl / (adj) – having the ability to bend without breaking

    Rubber bands are very flexible.

  2. remote / rɪˈmoʊt / (adj) – far and hard to reach

    Very few ships can travel to remote islands in the North Pole.

  3. mistake (something) for (something) / məˈsteɪk foɚ / (idiom) – to think that something is something else

    Some people mistake jaguars for leopards. Actually, jaguars have shorter tails than leopards.

  4. contaminate / kənˈtæməˌneɪt / (v) – to pollute something

    Improper waste disposal can contaminate the sea.

  5. defect / ˈdiːˌfɛkt / (n) – a flaw or an imperfection

    Unfortunately, the bird was born with a defect. It has one leg larger than the other.


Read the text below.

Scientists discovered a chemical used in making plastic inside the eggs of Arctic seabirds.

Phthalate [ˈtha-ˌlāt], a chemical that makes plastic flexible, was found in the eggs of northern fulmars. This species of seabird lives on Prince Leopold Island in the Canadian Arctic. The island is so remote that the nearest town is 100 miles away and only has less than 100 residents.

According to the scientists, this is the first time that an Arctic bird species has tested positive for the chemical.

The scientists speculate that phthalates were passed on by female fulmars to their unborn offspring. During food hunting, adult fulmars usually mistake plastic items for food and ingest them. Plastic does not pass through the birds’ digestive system, so it stays in the birds’ stomach for a long time. Chemicals from the plastic items then contaminate the eggs.

Animal exposure to phthalate can cause various birth defects. In fact, a separate report claims that phthalate has caused male fish species to produce eggs. Scientists also believe that the chemical can change animal behavior.

Jennifer Provencher, one of the scientists, finds it concerning that birds living in a remote location are contaminated. She is worried that the problem is even worse among species more exposed to plastic.

Several conservationists were also alarmed by the findings. One conservation biologist said that the findings are proof that plastics have an invisible effect on wildlife. Lyndsey Dodds of the World Wildlife Fund is also calling for worldwide action and hopes that nature will be plastic-free by 2030.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• How do you think plastics reached a very remote area in the Arctic? Speculate.
• Other than Arctic seabirds ingesting plastic, what are the dangers of plastic waste in the sea?

Discussion B

• Do you think it's possible for wildlife or any society to be free from pollutants, like plastic? Discuss.
• Is it possible to turn a pollutant, like plastic, to something beneficial (e.g. phthalates to create more female species)?