Daily News Archive
Scientific Evidence that Polar Bears are Affected by Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, September 14, 2004) Three new
scientific studies provide strong indications that toxic contamination
of polar bears is correlated to negative health impacts. This research
contributes to the ever-growing evidence of the dangers toxic chemicals
pose to wildlife and people, according to World
The new research demonstrates that biological changes in the hormone
and immune systems of polar bears are linked to the levels of toxic
contaminants in their bodies. For example, the higher the level of PCBs
(polychlorinated biphenyls) and several pesticides in polar bears in
Canada and on the Norwegian island of Svalbard, the lower the level
of antibodies in their blood. Toxic chemicals were also correlated with
steroid hormone cortisol and thyroid hormone levels in Svalbard polar
bears. Reduced levels of antibodies leave bears more susceptible to
infection. Altered hormone levels could result in a wide range of negative
health impacts, such as development, behavior, and reproductive problems.
"The studies conducted on polar bears over the last few years all
conclude that these animals are negatively affected by chemical pollution,"
said Dr. Andrew Derocher, who has contributed to all of the recent studies
on Arctic polar bear contamination. "Most polar bears probably
have several hundred man-made chemicals in their bodies and they have
never evolved mechanisms to deal with them. The unintentional tinkering
with the hormone and immune system of a polar bear is unlikely to be
good for them."
WWF stresses that although the toxic contaminants that were analyzed
in these studies are no longer widely used in manufacturing processes
or in farming, these chemicals are slow to break down in the environment
and can remain in water, ice, and soil for many years.
"Other contaminants, with similar properties, continue to be used
on a day-to-day basis in manufacturing processes and products throughout
the world," said Clifton Curtis, director of WWF's Toxics Program.
"It is crucial to prevent these newer-generation chemicals from
accumulating in, and polluting, our environment."
Most chemicals on the market today have not been adequately tested to
determine their impacts on human and wildlife health. According to WWF,
there is an urgent need for safer chemical regulation, including a strong
version of the European Union's proposed chemical reform legislation
known as REACH, which would help protect humans and animals such as
the polar bear from potentially harmful chemicals.
The estimated 22,000 polar bears living in the Arctic are not only under
threat from toxic chemicals, but also from the combined effects of climate
change, and habitat loss.
TAKE ACTION: Demand that EPA adequately test and regulate
chemicals that are affecting polar bear health, and human health, by
contacting EPA Administrator Mr. Michael Leavitt, EPA Administrator,
by email: [email protected],
phone: 202-564-4711, or fax: 202-501-1470.