Toxic chemicals found in Arctic wildlife

While the season may make us think of the Arctic as a place of sleighs, jingle bells and Santa's workshop, research has been published to turn our minds to land and water contamination instead.

Research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NUST) has reported high levels of contaminants in a range of animals and fish.

The source of pollution is countries in western Europe, North America and Asia. Their industrial pollutants are dispersed by the air and ocean currents, and are then concentrated over the Arctic.

These chemicals are taken up by the smallest plants and animals lowest on the food chain, and are ‘biomagnified’ the higher on the food chain an animal is. That is why polar bears, particularly, have high levels of toxic organic pollutant.

The scientists led by NTNU biologist and professor, Bjørn Munro Jenssen, began the long-term study in 2007 to explore the combined effects of pollutants and climate change.

Their recent article published in the journal Science of the Total Environment earlier this year, reported the presence of persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs and brominated flame retardants in the bodies of a wide range of arctic wildlife.

Three species of whales, polar bears, ringed seals, Stellar sea lions, walrus, mink and arctic fox were among the animals reported to contain high levels of these persistent organic pollutants.

However, East Greenland and Svalbard polar bears and Svalbard glaucous gulls were the only species directly found to show stress from the pollutants, but the researchers believe this is due to a lack of data, not a lack of effects.

Bad news for Santa and, well, just about anyone living up by the North Pole. Bah Humbug!

Alison Brown

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