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A Whale's Tale: Puzzling marine compounds are natural

An 85-year-old vial of oil from a whaling ship has revealed that a mysterious group of organic chemicals resembling human-made compounds are naturally produced in the sea.

A decade ago, scientists monitoring marine mammals' flesh for pollutants began finding unknown organic compounds containing the halogen atoms bromine and chlorine. More than 20 such compounds were eventually revealed. That raised alarms because the compounds, as complex halogenated chemicals, structurally resemble the pesticide DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were once used in flame retardants.

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