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Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report : Overview and Summary Contaminants in the Arctic :

by Chris M Furgal, Robbie Keith
Arctic ()


Introduction In June 1997 The Arctic Environmental Strategy (AES) -Northern Contaminants Program (NCP) issued a report entitled Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report (CACAR), a culmination of six years of scientific research and more than 100 studies.1 It is the most comprehensive collection and report of data on environmental contamination in the Canadian Arctic to date. Accompanying the report, the NCP also published a less technical volume entitled Highlights of the Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report: a community reference manual, which was aimed at community health and environment representatives in the North.2 This article summarizes the CA CAR documents and provides an overview of the key elements of the report. Contaminants in the Arctic: Reasons for Concern The Arctic was once considered a pristine environment; however, during the last 20 years, scientists have found significant levels of industrial and agricultural chemicals in its ecosystem and in the people who live there. The contaminants include organochlorines [OCs, also referred to as persistent organic pollutants (POPs)], heavy metals, and radionuclides, which originate principally from distant industrial and agricultural regions of the world. There are some local sources such as mines and radar station sites, but their contribution to contaminant loading is far less than that of those originating through long-range transport (table 1). Persistent contaminants have been detected throughout Arctic ecosystems—air, surface seawater, suspended sediments, snow,3 fish, marine mammals, seabirds,4 and terrestrial plants and animals.5 Several of the contaminants of concern in the Arctic are no longer used in Canada and their use has, in many cases, been banned or restricted in most of the developed world. Because they continue to be used in many developing nations, however, reduction of contamination in the Canadian Arctic can be achieved only through global action. The presence of environmental contaminates in the Arctic is especially important because of the specificity of this ecosystem. Many of these chemicals condense in cold environments and the Arctic is such a "cold trap," typified by long-lived, fat-rich organisms that accumulate and concentrate contaminants to the upper levels of the food chain. Unexpectedly high levels of organic contaminants and metals have been detected in some Arctic fish, seals, and whales that are important parts of the diets and nutrition of many Arctic residents. Chemical contamination of these traditional foods provides a critical path of contaminant transfer to human consumers, particularly northern Aboriginal peoples.6 Although the message currently given to northerners is to continue their consumption of country foods, detection of elevated levels of contaminants has generated human health advisories to decrease consumption of or eliminate from the diet certain tissues and species of fish and wildlife in specific areas of Yukon and the Northwest Territories.7

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