Food and animals dangerously contaminated

Astudy conducted by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program’s (AMAP) Human Health Expert Group shows that the traditional food of the Arctic indigenous people is severely exposed to environmental contaminants: people who eat meat and blubber from marine mammals are exposed to Persistent Organic Pollutant’s (POP) (dioxins, PCBs, pesticides) and heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, lead), often in excess of the levels reported in the industrialized countries where these chemicals are produced and released. Environmental contaminants reach the Arctic by means of air and water currents. These fat-soluble substances are then easily incorporated into the polar food web species with high levels of fatty tissue used to adapt to the cold. The effects of these contaminants are not fully understood, but there is concern about the effects on development, reproduction and the immune system. BY Jens C. Hansen & Andrew Gilman

The AMAP study (Phase 1) monitored POPs and heavy metal levels in pregnant women throughout the Arctic, since fetuses are especially sensitive to chemicals in the environmental. For the first time it was possible to compare circumpolar data, collected and analyzed to a single standard. Phase 2 studied other effects of contaminants; its results will be published in autumn 2002.

Based on these findings, it was proposed that local health authorities work with exceptionally exposed Arctic populations – such as in Greenland, eastern Arctic Canada and the Arctic part of Russia – and give dietary advice to minimize future risk of contamination, yet maintain the nutritional benefits of traditional diets. Swift action and global awareness is needed to restrict emissions, especially of the most dangerous chemicals, which affect even the most remote areas on earth. Early ratification of the Stockholm Convention on POPs will be an essential step in reducing sources of these pollutants.

For further reading:
AMAP Assessment Report: Arctic Pollution
Issues, Arctic Monitoring and Assessment
Programme (AMAP), Oslo, Norway, 1998.
Global Environmental Outlook – 2000,
United Nations Environmental
Programme, Earthscan Publications Ltd.,
London, United Kingdom, 1999.

Jens C. Hansen, Chair
Andrew Gilman, Vice-chair
AMAP Human Health Expert Group

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