| Toxins Put Arctic Polar
Bears and Humans at Risk
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
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