Share

New chemicals may be less toxic, safer for Arctic wildlife: researcher

An academic at Carleton University says his preliminary research in the Arctic shows new chemicals used in many every-day items like pesticides and clothing may be better for the environment and safer for wildlife.

Adam Morris, a PhD candidate based in Ottawa, travelled to the North each summer from 2007 to 2011. 

He did research in Resolute Bay, Pangnirtung, Gjoa Haven, and Yellowknife, working closely with local hunters to gather water and plant samples and to examine Arctic char, seal, caribou, wolves and polar bears.  

Adam Morris

‘A lot of people in the South still don’t really understand that contaminants get up here and build up in the food chain,’ says Morris. (submitted by Adam Morris)

And what he found surprised him. 

Morris, who delivered a talk this week at the Nunavut Research Institute, says his preliminary findings show that the new chemicals are breaking down more in the ecosystem and being metabolized more easily by wildlife. That means the chemicals aren’t building up as much in the Arctic environment.

Adam Morris

Adam Morris and his team collected water samples to check for toxicity. (submitted by Adam Morris)

“It’s really nice to see that some of the things that we intended to do are actually working,” Morris said.

The new chemicals are meant to replace old toxins known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) that are linked to serious health issues like diabetes and cancer.  

The new chemicals, which include PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) and endosulfan, are used in almost everything; from flame retardants on clothes, furniture and computers to pesticides found in fruits and vegetables.

Nunavut hunter still concerned

Peter Amarualik Sr., a hunter in Resolute Bay, Nunavut that’s assisted Morris with his research, says the new information is only somewhat reassuring.

“These are the animals that we eat here,” Amarualik said. “What people throw out there seems to be showing up in our animals. 

Adam Morris and Peter Amarualik Sr.

Adam Morris and Peter Amarualik Sr. taking a break from gathering samples in Resolute Bay. (submitted by Adam Morris)

“It doesn’t look good.”

But Morris says understanding what’s happening to plants and animals so far away from the source of these contaminants — i.e. clothing and furniture factories and warehouses in different parts of the world — is extremely significant.

“It’s a pretty unique system,” Morris said. “A lot of people in the south still don’t really understand that contaminants get up here and build up in the food chain.”

Morris says toxins travel from the South to the North through what is called the grasshopper effect or global distillation.

Adam Morris

‘These are the animals that we eat here,’ says hunter Peter Amarualik. (submitted by Adam Morris)

The chemicals accumulate in warmer areas near the middle of the Earth and eventually travel North. They end up hopping (like a grasshopper) from lake to lake and current to current until they reach the Arctic.

Morris says many of the contaminants break down along the way, but the most persistent pollutants make it all the way to the Arctic ending up in the ecosystem and affecting the population.

Adam Morris

The new chemicals are breaking down more in the ecosystem says Morris. (submitted by Adam Morris)

Amarualik says he’s still worried about the effects pollution and climate change have already had on his Arctic home.

“What they have done over there has done enough damage,” he said. “They have to start cleaning up.”

Article source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/new-chemicals-less-toxic-1.3786253?cmp=rss