Forest, agricultural fires threaten the Arctic
Fires in North America and Eastern Europe release organic pollutants that contaminate the Arctic food chain, according to a new study.
Tue, Jun 01, 2010 at 01:34 PM
HOT ISSUE: Global warming, which also threatens the Arctic, could lead to even more forest fires. (Photo: Mike Meadows/AP)
Forest fires and straw and stubble burning for farmland in regions as far afield as North America and Eastern Europe have a devastating effect on the Arctic's environment, a Norwegian study published Tuesday found.
According to the study published by the Research Council of Norway, fires in North America and Eastern Europe release persistent organic pollutants, including the toxic compound polychlorinated biphenyl.
These POPs, which are the result of accumulated pollution and have been stocked in North American and Eastern Europe soils over time, are now found at record levels in the Arctic, where they are brought by winds and contaminate the food chain.
"As far as we know, this is the first study that shows a connection between the burning of biomass and PCB concentrations in the atmosphere far away," researcher Sabine Eckhardt said in a statement.
The connection was shown thanks to new research methods allowing scientists to trace the origin of pollutants to North America and Eastern Europe.
"In 2004 and 2006, big fires ravaged these areas. Several weeks later, the researchers found record-high values of PCB in the atmosphere above (the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of) Svalbard," the statement added.
PCB enters the food chain as it is stored in the fatty tissues of living organisms.
The toxic substance affects humans, fish, and carnivores such as the polar bear, already threatened by the shrinking of the Arctic ice field.
Considering global warming could lead to more forest fires, Tuesday's research showed POPs are still a huge threat to the Arctic environment, countering progress made by the 2001 Stockholm convention banning several man-made POPs.
"Fires may represent an increasing environmental problem in the Arctic. That in turn will reduce the effect of the international agreements that aim to reduce emissions of these environmental toxins," Eckhardt said.
Copyright 2010 AFP Global Edition