New study identifies sources of Canadian Arctic dioxin pollution

A study conducted for the North American Commission for Environmental Co-operation (NACEC) has linked dioxin pollution in Canada’s Arctic to specific sources in Canada, the US, and Mexico.


Using an air transport model developed by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the research team has identified US waste incinerators, cement kilns burning hazardous waste, and metal processing facilities as the main sources of dioxins reaching Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic. The research has been published in a report: Long-range Air Transport of Dioxin from North American Sources to Ecologically Vulnerable Receptors in Nunavut, Arctic Canada (requires Adobe Acrobat).

“Our results show that the exposure of Nunavut to airborne dioxin is almost entirely due to sources in the rest of North America,” says Dr Barry Commoner of Queens College, New York, and leader of the research. “Sharply reducing or eliminating dioxin emissions from less than one percent of these 44,000 sources could appreciably reduce this serious health hazard.”

By combining North American pollution data with meteorological records and other information, the research has identified the main sources of dioxin pollution at each of eight Nunavut areas between 1 July 1996 and 30 June 1997. With no significant sources of dioxin within 500km (300 miles), the area is ideal for studying long-range pollutant transport.

US facilities were found to have contributed between 70 and 82% of deposited dioxins, whilst Canadian facilities contributed 11 to 25%. Mexican emissions, mostly caused by the backyard burning of waste, contributed five to 11%, their considerable distance from Nunavut reflected in their small proportion of the total.

According to the research, the remaining two to 20% of dioxins were supplied from outside North America, predominantly by Japan, France, Belgium, and the UK.

“It is clear that what we do anywhere on this continent can have serious effects somewhere else, even very far away, and the study shows us these connections,” said NACEC Executive Director Janine Ferretti. “This model provides us with a tool that can help us tackle the problem at source and provides communities across North America with a means of identifying the origins of all kinds of pollutants – not just dioxins – entering their environments.”

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