Arctic threatened by pollution from south

Scientific report finds extensive long-range transfer of pollutants; PCB s, pesticides of concern

A major scientific report on the state of the Arctic environment has sounded the alarm over pollution transported from Europe and other industrial areas. Up to one-third of heavy metal contamination in the Arctic comes from industrial sources in Europe and North America, and levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in many areas also comes from populated regions to the south, the report says.

The report draws together six years of research by 400 scientists. It was released yesterday at a scientific meeting in Tromsø, Norway, by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP). A fuller, scientific version will be published later this year.

The report reveals worrying levels of certain pollutants in parts of the Arctic, despite its remoteness from human activities and general cleanliness. "Certain Arctic...groups are among the most exposed populations in the world" to some contaminants, it says.

Key pollutants found in the Arctic include POPs, such as organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The report stresses that, over large areas, the levels of POPs "cannot be related to known sources in the Arctic". It concludes that levels of POPs "over much of the Arctic...can only be explained" by long-range transport.

Radioactive contamination in the Arctic is due to three main sources: atmospheric nuclear weapons testing up to 1980, releases from European nuclear waste reprocessing plants such as Sellafield, UK, and the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. Heavy metals are also found in significant concentrations in some areas, and there is "low but widespread" contamination with sulphur and nitrogen compounds derived from populated areas to the south.

The "major concern" of the authors is pollution by PCBs and pesticides, to which Arctic ecosystems are particularly sensitive. These pollutants are efficiently accumulated through food chains, leading certain bird and mammal species to have levels that exceed some health thresholds.

The main "toxic exposure" that is currently increasing in the Arctic is UV-B, damaging wavelengths of ultra-violet light that are reaching the Arctic in greater quantity due to depletion of the ozone layer. Arctic organisms are "particularly susceptible," the report says, because they are not adapted to resist damage. In long-lived organisms, repair processes are slower than damage.

Next week, the AMAP report will be presented to environment ministers from eight Arctic countries at the fourth Arctic Ministerial Conference: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Russia and the United States. Germany, the Netherlands and the UK also participated in the AMAP report and will be represented at the conference.

Follow Up:
Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme , tel: +47 22 57 34 00.

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