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Arctic Health Risks: Impacts on health in the Arctic and Europe owing to climate-induced changes in contaminant cycling

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Tracking contaminants in the Arctic

A European initiative investigated pathways of long-range transport of contaminants to the Arctic and its effect on the food chain, leading to human exposure.

Climate Change and Environment

The EU-funded ARCRISK (Arctic Health Risks: Impacts on health in the Arctic and Europe owing to climate-induced changes in contaminant cycling) project modelled the potential impact of climate change on the long-range atmospheric transport of environmental contaminants. The source of the contaminants was regions in the Northern Hemisphere. The transfer of contaminants to the Arctic via ocean currents was also investigated together with the potential influence of climate on contaminant cycling in the Arctic. Researchers investigated the link between these changes with potential changes in human exposure to contaminants from the consumption of animals caught in the Arctic. This was achieved using a model of a marine food web, which enabled researchers to estimate the transfer of organic contaminants to polar cod and seals consumed by humans. The results were compared with a European region by using a model to assess the influence of climate change on the environmental fate and transport of organic pollutants in the Black Sea. Samples of snow, sea ice and seawater were collected from the marine environment near Svalbard and in the Barents and Greenland Seas. They were used to determine levels of organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls and perfluorinated compounds. Partners studied the transfer of contaminants from air to snow and their fate in a melting snowpack. Levels of contaminants in local foods including Arctic char, salmon and reindeer were also determined. Results showed that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and mercury had the most significant effects on the developing foetus, on children and on women of reproductive age. Therefore, it will be essential to follow the trends in human exposure to POPs and mercury in the Arctic and the impacts of these contaminants in the subgroups most at risk. Some new or emerging organic contaminants affecting the Arctic possess different properties to 'legacy' POPs and their behaviour may be different. Reduction in the amount of snow and ice will help to release these compounds to meltwater rather than back into the atmosphere. The assessment tools developed and used by ARCRISK with databases, models and monitoring systems form a sound basis for further quantitative analysis of climate change impacts on variations in human heath exposure. These variations may be the result of changes in contaminant origin, the fate of transported contaminants and their behaviour in the environment, as well as uptake and transfer in food chains.

Keywords

Contaminants, Arctic, human exposure, contaminant cycling, persistent organic pollutants

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