The Arctic is often perceived to be a pristine environment free of environmental toxins, however recent research reveals that this is not the case. There are many unique features associated with the distinctive flora and fauna of the Arctic and one of those defining characteristics is fragility. Life forms that inhabit the Arctic appear to be more vulnerable to environmental insults. This is true of the landscape and of the animals and plants that occupy the region, it is also true of the people that inhabit the area around the North pole.
Arctic haze is pollution that travels all the way from much more densely populated locations. Even seriously toxic bioaccumulation of things like PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls), fluorinated and brominated compounds, bisphenol, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorinated pesticides and polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), have been found in Arctic wildlife and people.
“We have documented several direct harmful effects of these and other chemicals, especially in seabirds, top predators such as the glaucous and ivory,” says Geir Wing Gabrielsen, an environmental scientist at the Norwegian Polar said, “Climate change is having an effect and it is resulting in higher levels of contaminants in the environment and [therefore] also in the animals,” Gabrielsen warns.
According to researcher Arja Rautio at the Center for Arctic Medicine in the University of Oulu, Finland, people living in Arctic areas can be more sensitive to pollutants due to their genetics. Rautio suggested that “people of the north are exposed to higher levels than for example the general population in Europe.”
Climate change may be exacerbating this situation. Water movement and wind currents may be pushing hazardous chemicals into the Arctic. The Arctic is the fallout region for long-range transport pollutants, and in some places the concentrations exceed the levels of densely populated urban areas.
“Moreover, some of these chemicals reside in the environment — and in the body — for a long time, and this means that they may build up,” says Thomas Zoeller at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recently edited a recent World Health Organization report which warned that chronic diseases are increasing worldwide and many are related to hormones which are disrupted by some of these chemicals.
Although more research is needed, the initial results suggests both higher levels of Arctic toxicity and greater genetic vulnerability.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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