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Fascinating stuff


The freedom of information requests revealed something else: that the levels of a pollutant called pyridine in the north-eastern crabs the government tested were up to 74 times higher than those found in crabs caught in Cornwall. Pyridine is highly toxic to aquatic life. Despite this finding, the government press release claimed it has “ruled out chemical pollution as a likely cause”. It says that “pyridine was not present in water and surface sediment samples collected off the Tees”. Until we see the evidence, we have no means of knowing when, where and how such samples were taken, or how were they assessed.

Actual govt report:

Pyridine was identified in the crab soft tissue using the investigative, semi-quantitative
screening technique. However, concentrations could not initially be put into context as this
analysis had not previously been carried out on crab tissue and background levels were
To provide some immediate comparison, healthy crab tissues from outside the area of
impact (St. Mary’s Lighthouse, South Shields, Norfolk Wash and Cornwall) were analysed
and they were also found to contain varying amounts of pyridine. It is also thought that
pyridine could be being formed naturally post-mortem in the crab tissue. It has been
reported amongst other amines monitored as indicator of freshness in fish.
The pyridine finding illustrates how the Environment Agency further explored investigative
findings from the screening results to provide potential lines of enquiry. Upon the initial
pyridine findings in the first crabs analysed, follow up steps were immediately taken to
explore whether this was the cause:
• on the assumption that pyridine was causal, a potential source of the contaminant
was sought. This included taking a formal water discharge sample from a possible
industrial source. Using validated, fully quantifiable, tests no pyridine was present in
water samples. No source could be identified. (As the impacted area and length of
time of the incident increased, with no dilution mitigation, a contaminant source
became increasing improbable)
• literature searches for information including the ecotoxicology and background
levels of, and impact of, pyridine in crabs and lobsters, were carried out
• comparison crabs from outside the known impacted area were sourced to provide
an indication of the ‘background’ levels of pyridine in crab tissues. Comparison
crabs were obtained from St. Mary’s Lighthouse, South Shields, Norfolk Wash
(Eastern IFCA), Cornwall, and analysed using the same indicative screening
technique. Levels found ranged from low to medium
• Pyridine was analysed for in other materials in the area includinh water, sediment,
and blue mussels. Pyridine was detected at low levels by the screening method in
blue mussels but not in the sediment samples. Pyridine was generally not detected
in the water samples (historically we do see some positive detects of pyridine in
saline wasters, including in the Tees). Pyridine is readily soluble in water,
considered to be ‘mobile’ in soil and sediments, and has a low potential for
bioaccumulation in aquatic habitats
• a laboratory pyridine standard was obtained to validate that the screening technique
was identifying pyridine. It has been confirmed that the substance detected was
pyridine but the ‘concentrations’ remain indicative only
Taken together the findings from the different parts of the investigation could not support
the hypothesis that pyridine was the cause of the mortalities.


16 thoughts on “Fascinating stuff”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    The problem here is that they used the scientific method method to test a hypothesis. In the green new world if the high priests make a proclamation it must be so and it isn’t for mere mortals to gainsay it.

  2. It’s also a measurement issue too, as mentioned before. With better measurements you find stuff at ever decreasing concentrations and the precautionary principle (spit!) demands that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

  3. I vaguely remember some joshing about pyridine the I was young but I can’t remember the details.
    Was it perhaps an anti-Viagra? Not that Viagra was around.

  4. ISTR from chemistry at school a million years ago that pyridine was the stuff added to meths to make it smell nasty. Never knew it had so many uses..

  5. Well done that man who obtained the satellite photographs of the algal blooms

    There were reports last autumn of sea birds washed up dead in NOR and NL as well.

    There was a dude who said at the time that they’d had a long period of settled weather and therefore it must be climate change causing the deaths because there weren’t any storms. Perhaps settled weather benefits algal blooms, and wind doesn’t, I don’t know. But any excuse to blame humans.
    Good to see DEFRA researching this though.

  6. Off topic but I see the odious P3 is on the Moral Maze tonight. His whiny report on his previous appearance obviously shows he can’t take it when he is challenged.

  7. > was the stuff added to meths to make it smell nasty

    Interesting. Is that a recent addition. We used to use a meths stove at the seaside (60s and 70s) and the smell was strong, but not unpleasant and it was really quite sweet and fragrant when burnt. Inextricably linked to my childhood.

  8. @SC… No, I was doing O and A Level chemistry in the mid 1960s… I misspoke myself – I think that it was to make it taste disgusting (supposedly rather like rotted fish) rather than smell as such – presumably to stop the alkys drinking it, as the “methyl” part of the concoction is quite toxic. ISTR from model steam engines fired by meths that the smell wasn’t at all unpleasant. Ditto the “inextricable link…” 🙂

  9. Baron Jackfield, my high school chemistry teacher explained the difference between ethanol and methanol thus:
    One makes you blind drunk, the other makes you dead drunk. I don’t expect you boys to try any experiments at home.

  10. One of the most important realisations anyone can come to is that the “quality” press is only “serious” in comparison with the tabloids.

  11. A bit of methylol adds to taste in wines: In Austria, there is a regional (Styria) grape called “Schilcher” – the corresponding wine contains a lot (just legal) methylol. Tastes fine, but is known to make people violent – its called “Rabiatperle”…

  12. Tractor Gent “It’s also a measurement issue too, as mentioned before. With better measurements you find stuff at ever decreasing concentrations and the precautionary principle (spit!) demands that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!”

    A bit like the recent report that micro plastic particles has been found in the Antarctic. And now the “experts” are saying that the Antarctic is going to covered in the stuff and it’ll melt and we’ll all die. All it is is just being able to find the odd microscopic piece of plastic which could have floated in the air from anywhere.

  13. SadButMadLad

    Always find it fascinating that only one form of life is forbidden to mess up the planet. Plants can deposit great masses of coal; algae or whatever can pollute the place with trillions of tons of oil and gas; dinosaurs can leave fossil skeletons and shit all over the world; but horrid humans can leave nothing.

    And indeed it’s only some humans-us!!!-who can’t do this. I remember reading recently about a Brit who picked up a few fragments of a broken pot in Iraq. I understand he’s due to get 15 years in jail.

  14. Opinion Trumped by Facts – many claim citing facts is bullying, offensive, bigoted; then they complain UK is in a mess because…

  15. Tractor Gent: “ It’s also a measurement issue too, as mentioned before. With better measurements you find stuff at ever decreasing concentrations and the precautionary principle (spit!) demands that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!”

    Precisely. Analytical methods have become exquisitely sensitive and widely available since my analytical days in the 80’s. Additionally, they have found their way into the huge swathes of EU legislation and Standards across all manner of sectors. The angels dancing on the heads of pins can now be counted and as a result, safety exposure and risk assessment are becoming subservient to the precautionary principle. Just because you can now measure what might formerly be thought of as homeopathic levels of substances, doesn’t mean that homeopathy has any basis in causality.

    ISTR a scare about high levels of mercury in tuna a few decades ago, cue all manner of pollution concerns. It went away when tuna samples from a museum revealed similar levels in tuna from the previous century.

    Association is very different from causality, but the headlines and click bait need to be written.

  16. @Will and TG…

    I remember that one of the drivers for smoking bans based upon “passive smoking” was the shock headline that after spending a couple of hours in a smoky pub a non-smoker had measureable levels of nicotine in his/her/its blood. The fact that the quantity of nicotine was approximately the same as that found after eating one medium-sized potato somehow failed to make the news.

    Old Paracelsus had it right all them years ago.

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