Mercury and other contaminants still threaten polar bears and whales, shows a new summary on toxins from the Arctic. In addition to these threats, the study for the Arctic Council found that climate change and chemicals continue to broaden, stated one of the lead authors of the study – Canadian scientist Robert Letcher.
The report was released last week, and it’s part of the research done between 2010 and 2017. Researchers have seen that many of the chemicals from the southern skies get to the north and work their way through the Arctic ecosystem.
One of the most common chemicals is mercury, a neurotoxin and byproduct of burning coal. Some bear populations in Canada have been found to have the highest level of mercury in the world. Over a third of bears in the Beaufort Sea region are highly threatened by mercury, and so are half of the hooded seals in the Davis Strait.
Hot Spots in the Arctic
Another persistent organic pollutant (POP) can include dioxins and PCBs and residue from pesticides or industrial chemicals. In 2001, an international agreement was signed to put a limit to spreading POPs –179 countries have signed this agreement, but the chemicals are still around.
Other animals at high risk of PCB health effects are the killer whales in northern British Columbia coast, the polar bears in Hudson Bay and the seabirds in Davis Strait, Letcher adding that Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay and the Beaufort Sea are the hot spots:
“There are clearly hot spots in the Arctic when it comes to chemical stress impact.”
Adding to these threats, climate change also impacts the Arctic by shrinking sea ice and altering the feeding patterns of some animals. One example is the polar bears in Hudson Bay, explains Letcher:
“There is data that shows changes in levels over time in some contaminants are compounded by changes in the number of ice-free days.”
The new compounds found in the Arctic are stain repellents, flame retardants, and pharmaceuticals, reaching a total of 150 compounds. How did they get to the North or how long will they stay there and what it will happen to the ecosystem are questions researchers haven’t got answers:
“It’s a massive question mark.”
Letcher concludes that the report hasn’t yet found how these chemicals affect the health of the animals in the Arctic, as there is no data yet.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.