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Toxins Put Arctic Polar
Bears and Humans at Risk

Excerpt By Paul de Bendern, Reuter's Health

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The health of polar bears and the indigenous peoples of the Arctic is at serious risk from man-made toxins being carried there by air and sea, a new report showed Tuesday.

The impact of pollutants traveling to the delicate Arctic environment from other parts of the world is being felt the most by those at the top of the food chain--polar bears and humans, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program said.

"Some Arctic people are among the most highly exposed people on the globe because contaminants accumulate in their foods," said the Norwegian-based group, a unit of the intergovernmental Arctic Council.

The report, presented at an Arctic environment pollution conference in the Finnish town of Rovaniemi, found mercury levels in some Arctic indigenous people are high enough to affect children's development.

It also said mercury levels in some wildlife are increasing while global emissions are not falling.

"Most of these contaminants are produced and used outside the Arctic," the group's chair, Helgi Jensson, said in the report, prepared over the past 5 years by scientists from Arctic countries working with Arctic indigenous peoples.

The group said the Inuit in Greenland and Canada, the indigenous people of the Arctic, have among the world's highest exposures to certain toxic chemicals carried there from far afield.

People with increased risk mainly lived in areas with high intake of marine mammals, such as the Inuit, and those with high intake of some fish species, such as Yup'ik in western Alaska.

"They eat the food because it is full of nutrition but the animals they eat are also contaminated. That's the dilemma," the group's executive secretary, Lars Otto Reiersen, told Reuters.

He said the lack of elder animals in some populations may be a consequence of pollutants gathered in the Arctic from afar.

"Levels of PCBs in some wildlife are high enough to cause subtle effects on the immune system and this may even be true for children in some areas. Other PCB risks include effects on brain development and reproduction," the group said.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are mixtures of chemicals and are potentially cancer-causing. They build up in the food chain, especially in fatty tissue like blubber--key nutrition for polar bears and the Inuit. Use of the industrial chemicals is largely banned in the West.

"In the long run, international conventions or protocol are the only ways to reduce the contaminant load in the Arctic traditional foods and thus in people. However, it will take many years before levels decrease, and in the short term, dietary advice may also be prudent," the group said.

Marine mammals, such as polar bear, Arctic fox, harbor porpoise, seals and birds also suffered from high levels of contamination by persistent organic pollutants that damage the nervous system, development and reproduction.

Reference Source 89


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