Will climate changes enhance the impacts of e-waste in aquatic systems?

Abstract The increase of the worlds' population is being accompanied by the exponential growth in waste of electrical and electronic equipment (e-waste) generation as a result of the rapid technological implementations. The inappropriate processing and disposal of this e-waste, containing rare-earth elements (REEs) such as gadolinium (Gd), may enhance its occurrence in the environment. In particular, the presence of Gd in marine systems may lead to environmental risks which are still unknown, especially considering foreseen climate modifications such as water salinity shifts due to extreme weather events. Within this context, the present study intended to assess the combined effects of Gd at variable salinities. For that, biochemical modifications were assessed in mussels, Mytilus galloprovincialis, exposed to Gd (0 and 10 μg/L) and different salinity levels (20, 30 and 40), acting individually and in combination. A decrease in salinity, induced an array of biochemical effects associated to hypotonic stress in non-contaminated and contaminated mussels, including metabolism, antioxidant and biotransformation defenses activation. Moreover, in Gd-contaminated organisms, the increase in salinity was responsible for a significant reduction of metabolic and defense mechanisms, possibly associated with a mussels’ physiological response to the stress caused by the combination of both factors. In particular, Gd caused cellular damage at all salinities, but mussels adopted different strategies under each salinity to limit the extent of oxidative stress. That is, an increase in metabolism was associated to hypotonic stress and Gd exposure, an activation of defense enzymes was revealed at the control salinity (30) and a decrease in metabolism and non-activation of defenses, associated with a possible physiological defense trait, was evidenced at the highest salinity. The different strategies adopted highlight the need to investigate the risk of emerging contaminants such as REEs at present and forecasted climate change scenarios, thus providing a more realistic environmental risk assessment.
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