Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Around the Arctic October 10, 2018 - 1:30 pm

Arctic wildlife remains at risk from contaminants: new report

Mercury, PCBs remain "a significant exposure concern" for wildlife

A new report by the Arctic Council's Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme on the biological effects of contaminants on Arctic wildlife and fish reveals that toxic substances like PCBs are still having an impact in the Arctic.
A new report by the Arctic Council's Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme on the biological effects of contaminants on Arctic wildlife and fish reveals that toxic substances like PCBs are still having an impact in the Arctic.

Despite global moves to restrict the industrial production of mercury and persistent organic pollutants, levels of these chemicals remain elevated in some top predator species in the Arctic.

That’s according to a new Arctic Council report, released one day before Arctic environment ministers meet Oct. 11 and Oct. 12 in Rovaniemi, Finland.

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme report says levels of mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, remain “a significant exposure concern” for Arctic wildlife, including polar bears, killer whales, pilot whales, seals, and various seabirds, shorebirds and birds of prey.

Polar bears continue to exhibit levels of mercury that put them at “a high to severe risk for reproductive and other adverse health effects,” the report said.

And killer whales are among “the most highly PCB-contaminated species on Earth,” it said.

As well, AMAP researchers found that many different Arctic bird populations, including gulls, guillemots and murres, at various locations around the Arctic, were found to be at “a high to severe risk for health impacts” from either PCB or lead exposure.

This raises concerns for the health of these bird populations and for possible impacts on human health, they said.

The AMAP report on the biological effects of contamination on Arctic wildlife and fish follows a report from 2015, also by AMAP, which suggested that the health risks to ecosystems and humans from persistent organic pollutants—which include PCBs—had lessened in some species.

Persistent organic pollutants were subject to regulation, nationally and later internationally, under the Stockholm Convention, a landmark treaty to reduce Arctic pollutants signed in 2001 that required countries to reduce or eliminate their use of these chemicals, which cause disruptions to immune, hormone and reproductive systems.

But AMAP said today that “newly acquired information” indicated there should be continued concern about the impacts of legacy chemicals like PCBs, which were used in the past but can still be found in the environment.

As reported in AMAP’s earlier Assessment of Chemicals of Emerging Arctic Concern, there are also a number of new chemicals, such as new brominated flame retardants, which have been found in air, water and wildlife throughout the Arctic.

Previously undetected in the Arctic, these are now being found in circumpolar wildlife and fish and “may contribute to adverse effects in these organisms,” AMAP said in today’s report, which can be downloaded online.

AMAP said future research is needed to help estimate the risks to Arctic wildlife, and it suggests Indigenous knowledge holders, environmental data, and the development of new tools, such as computer models, could form a “larger, holistic picture of Arctic wildlife health.”

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(4) Comments:

#1. Posted by Sea Duck on October 10, 2018

Finally seeing what the contaminents have been doing the last century. War garbage, junk from ships, oil spills, chemical dumping sites, underwater disasters, volcano ashes, pollutants of every kind imaginable, and our own careless junker littering has been killing and contaminating the earth…but it’s good that they are watching the effects now.

#2. Posted by highlighter on October 10, 2018

Is that blue box in the picture intentional? if not, they couldn’t take a screenshot without the highlight?

#3. Posted by Humanitarian ( OTTAWA ) on October 10, 2018

I quite agree with you, and us humans will not be happy until we
have destroyed this beautiful planet.

#4. Posted by Putuguk on October 12, 2018

Why so glum Humanitarian?

People have a good track record of finding out that we are creating a problem, figuring out what to do about it, doing something about it, and then achieving positive results.

The trick is not to get stuck in the alarm bell stage.

POPs are declining. It will take years to properly document this trend, but it is definitely happening.

As issues arise we respond. Last notable example is fire retardant chemicals. 

Read “Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants in Arctic marine and freshwater biota”.

Perhaps you are too young to remember in the 1970’s and 80’s the eminent extinction of Peregrine Falcons and other raptors due to DDT exposure.

This included desperation initiatives like live capture of birds to establish captive breeding populations.

At the time it felt like the sky was falling. But it did not. Tons of raptors around today.

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