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Pollution with Long-Term Effects

Coastal researchers at HZG are tracing persistent organic pollutants in the water

Recently, the Lower Saxony Ministry of Consumer Protection issued a warning that fish in the Ochtum river are too highly contaminated with the perfluorinated chemical PFOS. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are used everywhere: in outdoor jackets, coffee travel mugs, and fire-extinguishing foams. They are also used in many more everyday items, e.g. to give products a water-repellent surface.

Wasserprobe PFAS

In the lab of the coastal researchers. Hanna Joerss:"The equipment is so sensitive, that it could be used to detect a lump of sugar in Lake Constance.'' (Photo: HZG/Christian Schmid)

Where do the pollutants found in the fish come from?

That is what the members of the Environmental Chemistry department in the Biogeochemistry in Coastal Seas division at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG) want to track. What is certain is that these compounds are spreading around the globe through the air and oceans.

By taking samples, the coastal researchers are investigating the occurrence, spread, and long-distance transport of these substances in coastal and marine areas. The studies are being conducted in home waters as well as in the coastal regions of the Arctic and China. The collected samples are evaluated in the HZG laboratories with the help of the latest detection technologies and devices and are analysed in combination with detailed computer calculations.

Comprehensible Science Online


The various substances are separated using high-performance liquid chromatography. Photo: HZG/Christian Schmid

Researchers Christina Apel and Hanna Joerss, scientists at the Institute of Coastal Research, have put together a multimedia-based page covering results from the studies carried out by the Environmental Chemistry department. The resulting multimedia article explains the results in layman’s terms and gives users the opportunity to explore the data through interactive maps online.

This way to the scientific highlight on "Persistent Organic Pollutants"

The head of the Department for Environmental Chemistry, Professor Ralf Ebinghaus, has spent the last two years working with persistent organic pollutants. In an interview with the Earth System Knowledge Platform (ESKP.de) of the Helmholtz Association he spoke extensively about the spread and dangers of and research into these alarming substances. (In German language)

This way to the interview with Ralf Ebinghaus


Prof. Dr. Ralf Ebinghaus
Prof. Dr. Ralf Ebinghaus

Head of Department

Institute/Department: Environmental Chemistry

Phone: +49 (0)4152 87-2354

E-mail contact


Institute of Coastal Research
Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht