The Environmental Specimen Bank is an archive for the future of environmental samples from the Norwegian nature, and it is an important tool in the national and international work against environmental pollution.
The Environmental Specimen Bank contains deep-frozen samples from different species, such as samples of fish and birds from all over the country, including the Arctic. The samples deposited in the bank are time capsules from the environment of today and they can be analysed with the future knowledge.
The Environmental Specimen Bank is located below the Research Park/CIENS, and extends over 200 m². Treatment and processing of the collected material is done in two dedicated laboratories. Afterwards, the samples are preserved in the freezing archive (-25 °C) or in ultra freezers (-85 °C).
Learning from the past
The history has many examples of how people have invented substances that are initially considered useful, but later has proven to be environmental pollutants. Hence, Norway needs an environmental specimen bank to be able to work with these issues also in the future.
Environmental pollutants are chemicals that are persistent, can accumulate in living organisms and are toxic.
The insecticidal drug DDT was discovered in 1939, and was used intensely for many years until it was shown that DDT caused the death of predator birds as well as that DDT could be cancerogenic among humans.
Tetraethyl lead (TEL) was discovered in 1920 and was used as an additive to petrol for many years since it gives higher engine power and lower fuel consumption. During the 1990s, TEL in petrol was phased out due to increasing knowledge of its toxic effects on the environment.
A future without environmental pollutants
Until today, environmental samples have mainly been analysed for environmental pollutants that we already know about, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), mercury (Hg) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
The environmental speciemen bank makes it possible to keep environmental samples for many years, to allow future researchers to analyse them with regards to environmental pollutants that we do not know about as of today. This will also make it possible to quickly find good solutions for management of new environmental issues.
The story of Mjøsa
High concentrations of brominated flame retardants (PBDE) were detected in fish in Mjøsa in 2002.
Fortunately, scientists had been sampling vendace from Mjøsa since 1993. Thus, they could see that the levels of PBDE began to increase in 1997-1998. It was suggested that an outlet was the point source and the cause, and the polluting authorities imposed new and stricter requirements for usage and discharge of PBDE.
Today, the concentrations of PBDE in fish from Mjøsa are back at same low levels as from before 1997.
The national environmental specimen bank
The story of the flame retardants in Mjøsa ended well because Norway’s largest lake had a local environmental specimen bank.
We probably use substances today that will later prove to be environmental pollutants. The environmental specimen bank can be used to identify the presence of these substances in the environment as early as possible.
The environmental specimen bank shall contain samples from all over the country, thus providing a new and useful tool for work against environmental pollution.
The Norwegian Environmental Specimen Bank is owned by the Ministry of Climate and Environment and is managed by the Norwegian Environmental Agency. The daily work is assigned to CIENS as a national task.
CIENS is a strategic research collaboration between independent research institutes and the University of Oslo. CIENS should be a leading national and international area for multidisciplinary research on the environment and society.
The daily business and development of the Environment Specimen Bank are done in accordance with recommendations from an expert group that consists of:
- Elisabeth Lie (leader), Norwegian Institute for Water Research
- Geir Wing Gabrielsen, Norwegian Polar Institute
- Bjørn Munro Jenssen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
- Katrine Borgå, University of Oslo
- Martin Schlabach, Norwegian Institute for Air Research
- Bente Nilsen, National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research
- Anders Bignert, Swedish Museum of Natural History