Arctic people hit with pollution from half a world away
Pollution is blown in the wind from the point of origin to the Arctic, falling in the form of rain and snow.
Wed, Jun 10, 2009 at 05:10 PM
Why would Arctic indigenous peoples, who live in rural areas far from factories and congested urban centers, have 10 times more pollutants in their blood than residents of major American cities? Scientists call it the "grasshopper effect", in which pollution is blown by the wind from the point of origin to the Arctic, where it comes down in the form of rain and snow.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are increasing dramatically in the Arctic and are projected to get worse as the climate warms. POPs are volatile at higher temperatures, so they vaporize in the developed nations where they’re created and enter the atmosphere, where they’re carried to the cold Arctic.
As global warming increases, chemicals volatize more readily into the atmosphere. Warmer surface temperatures on land and in the oceans alter prevailing winds blowing from the equator north in both hemispheres. This alteration in atmospheric circulation patterns, first documented in 2001, leads to even warmer air over the Arctic and a negative feedback loop that can only get worse as Earth’s temperature rises. As of June 1, the Arctic Ocean's sea-ice cover was again below the 1979-2000 average.
The organization Alaska Community Action in Toxics (ACAT) is raising awareness about the effect of global pollution on one of the last pristine wildernesses and its people. A recent study shows that perfluorinated chemicals are linked to infertility, and ACAT believes that these chemicals are already affecting native populations.
For example, the Canadian Inuit population was 55,700 in 2000 and just six years later, was reduced to 50,485. Other groups face an even steeper decline, worsened by poverty and climate change.
Chemical pollutants are also the cause of reproductive failures, gender imbalances, thyroid problems, immune system failures, behavioral abnormalities, diabetes, cancers and birth defects among indigenous people in the Arctic.
Pamela K. Miller, the executive director of ACAT, fears that the chemical lobbying industry will complicate efforts to remedy the situation.
“There is extreme influence by the chemical lobby. But if these chemicals are showing up in remote ecosystems like the Arctic, that is, to my way of thinking, an injustice to the people of the Circumpolar Arctic, and it has to be stopped.”