Publications > Poverty Times #1 > The Arctic under threat

Poverty Times #1

The Arctic under threat

A study 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 (1): people who eat meat and blubber from marine mammals are exposed to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) (dioxins, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, etc.) and heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, lead), often in excess of the levels reported in the industrialized countries where these chemicals are produced, used and released. Environmental contaminants reach the Arctic by means of air and water currents. They are then easily incorporated into the polar food web where species with higher levels of fatty tissue (to adapt to the cold) are particularly susceptible to environmental chemicals. The effects of these contaminants are not fully understood, but there is concern about the effects on development, reproduction and the immune system (2). BYJens 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 environmental chemicals. 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.

Jens Hansen Chair of the AMAP Human Health Expert Group, jch@mil.au.dk
Andrew Gilman Vice-chair of the AMAP Human Health Expert Group andy_gilman@hc-sc.gc.ca

1. AMAP Assessment Report: Arctic Pollution Issues, Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Oslo, Norway, 1998.

2. Global Environment Outlook – 2000, UNEP, Earthscan Publications Ltd., London, United Kingdom, 1999.

CONCENTRATION OF PCBs (POLYCHLORINATED BIPHENYLS) IN THE POLAR FOOD CHAIN

TRANSPORT OF MAJOR POPs (PERSISTANT ORGANIC POLLUTANTS) TO THE ARCTIC