Associated Press
A herd of musk ox at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Toxin Levels Dropping in Arctic

July 18, 2008 12:22 PM
by Denis Cummings
A Canadian study has found drops in toxic chemical levels in Arctic animals, though levels of heavy metals remain high.

30-Second Summary

The government study examined the level of toxic chemicals in Arctic animals over 10 years. It discovered large drops in levels of toxins derived from pesticides, including a 43-percent drop in PCB levels.

The Arctic receives large amounts of chemicals from the rest of the world through ocean and air currents. The chemicals have had an adverse effect on both the local wildlife and the Inuit population, whose diet relies heavily on Arctic animals.

Inuits have long had high levels of PCBs. At one point, their levels were 10 times higher than the average person in southern Canada. Even the breast milk of Inuit women was found to have high PCB levels, which may be responsible for nervous system and behavioral changes in Inuit babies.

Canada pushed for an international agreement—the Stockholm Convention—restricting the use of the “dirty dozen” industrial chemicals. The agreement, reached in 2001 and signed in 2004, is credited with accelerating the drop in chemical levels.

For Laurie Chan, the lead researcher, the study illustrates the effectiveness of international agreements. The next task for improving Arctic health involves reducing levels of heavy metals such as mercury.

“The major source of mercury is air pollution, from coal-fired power generation,” Chan said. “We know that is increasing all the time.”

Headline Link: PCB levels drop, mercury levels remain the same

Background: Toxin levels in northern Canada

Reference: Stockholm Convention


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