Daily News Archives
From February 22, 2005
Arctic Is the Chemical Sink of the Globe, Report Finds
(Beyond Pesticides, February 22, 2005) The Arctic and its wildlife
are increasingly contaminated with chemicals, pesticides and other pollutants
that were never produced or used in that region, warns World Wildlife
Fund in a new report.
The report, The
tip of the iceberg: Chemical contamination in the Arctic, shows
that air, river and ocean currents, drifting sea ice and migrating wildlife
species carry industrial and agricultural chemicals from distant sites
of production and use to the polar environment. Once pollutants reach
the Arctic, polar ice can trap contaminants that are gradually released
into the environment during melting periods, even years later. As a
result, the Arctic is becoming the chemical sink of the globe, according
"Not only is chemical contamination increasing in the Arctic, but
also modern chemicals are now appearing in many arctic species alongside
older chemicals, some of them banned for over 20 years," said Brettania
Walker, Toxics Officer at WWF's Arctic Program. "This alarming
trend will continue if the current chemical regulation does not improve.
REACH , the new EU chemical legislation, provides an opportunity to
set a new global standard, putting chemical production and use on a
safe and sustainable path."
WWF's report points out that recent studies of polar bears in the Norwegian
or Canadian Arctic indicate that exposure to older chemicals, such as
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides (OCs),
is already at levels where effects are seen in their hormone, immune,
and reproductive systems. (See Beyond Pesticides Daily
News story for more information). Many of the newer chemicals now
reaching the Arctic are capable of similar effects, and mixtures of
both older and current-use chemicals could lead to even more harmful
Many Arctic animals, such as polar bears, seals, and whales, have thick
layers of body fat that helps them keep warm and gives them sufficient
energy throughout the year. But the fat also acts as a magnet for storing
chemicals, leading to the build up of very high chemical levels.
The report shows that chlorinated paraffins - un-restricted chemicals
used in paints, sealants, adhesives, leather, and rubber processing
- have been detected in grey and ringed seals from Norway, beluga whales,
walruses as well as fish, birds, and ocean sediments from the United
Kingdom. Brominated flame-retardants and fluorinated chemicals, many
of which are inadequately regulated, have already contaminated polar
bears, whales, Arctic foxes, seals, porpoises, and birds from Greenland,
Norway, Canada and Sweden. If current trends and inadequate regulation
continue, levels of brominated flame-retardants could reach similar
levels as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, phased out in the 1970s)
within the next 10 to 20 years.
"Arctic contamination has serious implications not just for the
health of arctic animals but also for arctic indigenous peoples who
rely on a traditional marine diet," added Brettania Walker. "Strong
chemical regulation is needed to prevent hazardous chemicals from reaching
the Arctic in the first place."
WWF believes the European Union's proposed REACH chemical legislation
must be strengthened to require identification and phase-out of the
most hazardous chemicals. REACH will then have the potential to drastically
reduce harmful contamination both in the Arctic and globally. Protecting
environmental, wildlife, and human health would also benefit the industry,
opening new markets for safer products, and ensuring easier introduction
of new chemicals onto the market, decreased liability lawsuits, and
more public trust.
TAKE ACTION: Urge EPA Acting Administrator
Stephen Johnson to make
sure the United States does its part to curb the toxic exposure taking
place in the Arctic by banning hazardous chemicals and instilling safer
alternatives in agriculture.