Bones are cut and the cranium is opening up on one of the chars that are being sampled for the bank. Research assistant Siri Moy is treating the large char from Mjøsa with care. Her experienced fingers are holding the tweezers firmly while she carefully cut the brain loose and put it in a small glass. Beside Siri, a colleague of her is doing the same thing with a large cod from the Barents Sea. The otoliths are cut out from their location below the brain. They are carefully wiped off and put in a carefully marked bag. The otoliths are important for the hearing and balance of the fish, but they can also provide scientists with lots of important information; age and annual growth can be counted from the grey and thin winter zones, while trace metals and isotopes can provide information on the temperature regime and areas visited by the fish.
After a short period of time, samples of muscle tissue, liver and bile are lined up in glasses along with the brain and the otoliths. The samples are being weighed, labelled and sealed before they are brought over to the freezing room. From now on, the samples are stored in the bank for many many years, until a future scientist will use these samples for finding out about environmental pollutants in the environment around us today.
The Environmental Specimen Bank contains frozen samples from e.g. fish and birds from the whole country, including the Arctic. The samples in the bank are time capsules that preserves the environment of today to be able to analyse it with the analytical techniques of tomorrow. (Photo: NIVA).
The bank got it all
Siri and her colleagues are sampling the fish that was collected last autumn. All information about the fish is registrated in the database of the bank. This database contains information about thousands of samples. There are samples from freshwater fish, marine fish, blue mussels, bird eggs, polar bears, Arctic foxes, seals, otters and reindeers. Well, that was only the animals sampled. The bank contains samples of mosses, air and sewage sludge too.
Siri Moy is steadily taken out the precious sample material from this char from Mjøsa. (Photo: NIVA)
Long term investments
Every day, the industry presents new chemicals on the market and many of these might be cause for environmental concern and be banned. However, the replacement compounds might not be very good either. A slight change of the chemical formula of a banned chemical leads to a just slightly modified molecule but that might have similar properties and effects in the environment as the regulated chemical. Hence, it might be legal to use the new chemical, but this chemical might not be nice to the environment either.
It is a long-term work to identify new environmental pollutants. They know no borders and are spread widely with air and ocean currents. Sometime, it can take more than10-20 years from the beginning of the usage of the chemical to the time when we can identify them as an environmental pollution
Aim of the Environmental Specimen Bank
The bank and its freezers are safely located in the basement of the CIENS-building in the Research Park in Oslo. It is owned by the Ministry of Climate and Environment and is run by a consortium of some of the research institutes in Norway; NIVA, NINA, NILU, NPI and the University of Oslo. NIVA runs the daily business, but all members are contributing with sample material and scientific knowledge to the bank.
— The Environmental Specimen Bank was established during autumn 2012 and was opened for sample requests from 2016, says Marthe Solhaug Jenssen, research assistant at NIVA.
Join a visit in the bank with this video!
Every day, we see new environmental pollutants showing up around us. You can find quite many of them in your personal care products and in other various products in your home. Earlier, environmental pollutants were something that came from industrial production and from pesticides, but today, we are also looking at compounds in clothing, electronic machines, painting, cosmetics and many other things.
— To succeed with the work on international regulations regarding new environmental pollutants, research, preferably published in scientific peer reviewed journals on this topic is essential. We need long term stored samples to be able to assess reference and background concentrations of new environmental pollutants says Jenssen.
Toxic char from Mjøsa
One example is the brominated flame retardants in Mjøsa. Early in the 2000s, NIVA and NILU documented concentrations that were among the highest in the world. Thanks to a some stored samples from char from Mjøsa, the scientists could actually pinpoint the time (mid-1990s) when the large releases of flame retardants into Mjøsa started. This timing fitted well with the introduction of these flame retardants in the production at a company in Lillehammer. The findings led to a systematic monitoring of pollutants in Mjøsa by the Norwegian authorities and they worked towards an international ban on brominated flame retardants brominated flame retardants.