From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published March 20, 2013 08:18 AM

Arctic Genetic Pollution Effects

The cold frozen north and south are pristine and innocent. Even the people who live there. People living in Arctic areas can be more sensitive to pollutants due to their genetics, says researcher Arja Rautio at the Center for Arctic Medicine in the University of Oulu, Finland. This is unfortunate since the northernmost areas of Europe are receiving more harmful chemicals. Scientists believe climate change may be a culprit as air and water mass movements push some of these undesirable chemicals towards the Arctic. "In real life, people are exposed to lots of chemicals," says Rautio, who leads studies into the human health effects from contaminants and the influence of climate change in a EU-funded project called ArcRisk, "and I think the people of the north are exposed to higher levels than for example the general population in Europe."


The Arctic is a polar region located at the northernmost part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, the United States (Alaska), Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost.

Long-range transport of contaminants to the Arctic, the resulting exposures observed in Arctic human populations, and impacts of such exposures on human health have been the subject of considerable work in recent years, providing a baseline against which to compare future developments.

The Arctic is comparatively clean, although there are certain ecologically difficult localized pollution problems that present a serious threat to people’s health living around these pollution sources. Due to the prevailing worldwide sea and air currents, the Arctic area is the fallout region for long-range transport pollutants, and in some places the concentrations exceed the levels of densely populated urban areas. An example of this is the phenomenon of Arctic haze, which is commonly blamed on long-range pollutants. Another example is with the bioaccumulation of PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls) in Arctic wildlife and people.

Many new contaminants like fluorinated and brominated compounds and bisphenol A can act on hormones and so have impacts on human health. But seeing an effect on humans, at the population level, could take ten or even 20 years, especially in the case of cancer, she adds. This is why ArcRisk has established a database containing data on concentration levels and trends of contaminants in humans. The project team analysed frozen blood samples collected in Norway in 1978, 1986, 1995 and 2008 for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorinated pesticides and polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs).

In addition, the human population is genetically variable and may react differently to the chemicals and we don’t even know which of the chemicals affect us.

"Moreover, some of these chemicals reside in the environment – and in the body – for a long time, and this means that they may build up," says Zoeller. His recently edited a recent World Health Organization report which warned that chronic diseases are increasing worldwide and many are related to hormones.

Health problems induced by these chemicals could be worse than anticipated. Some of the pollutants found in the Arctic by the project scientists like the fluorinated compounds have higher affinities for hormone receptors than even the natural hormones.

These animal studies already show worrying trends that do not bode well for humans. "When we see these findings in Arctic animals I am very concerned about what we will find with regards to humans, though we ourselves don’t do human studies," Gabrielsen says. He notes that long periods of warm air are being transported to the Arctic and that the sea currents around places like the Svalbard islands [located midway between Norway and the North Pole] now consist of warmer Atlantic water; they used to consist of polar waters. "Climate change is having an effect and it is resulting in higher levels of contaminants in the environment and [therefore] also in the animals," Gabrielsen warns.

The main challenge that project scientists struggle with is to disentangle the effects of contaminant chemicals from what we do in our everyday lives. "We know that dioxins can lead to more diabetes and high blood pressure," says Rautio, "but there are many other confounding factors. We are changing our diet and many of us are less active and those lifestyle choices can also increase the risk of diseases like diabetes." The results of the project are due to be presented at a conference of Arctic Frontiers in Tromsø, Norway, in January 2014.

For further information Arctic Effects and Study,

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