Polar Bears Are Suffering from Industry Chemicals, Says WWF
OSLO New evidence shows that polar bears are suffering from industrial chemicals swept to the Arctic from nations thousands of kilometers (miles) to the south, the WWF global conservation organization said this week.
It called for a wider ban on the toxic chemicals, including some in a newer generation meant to be less harmful than a "dirty dozen" outlawed by a 2001 convention.
"Three new scientific studies published recently provide strong indications that polar bears are contaminated by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and pesticides and are already being affected by these chemicals," it said in a report.
The WWF said that it was calling for "the immediate phase out of the most hazardous chemicals," saying the studies added to evidence of contamination of the Arctic by chemicals swept north by winds and currents from nations to the south.
An estimated 22,000 polar bears live in the Arctic and face other threats from global warming and loss of habitat.
PCBs and some pesticides were banned under the 2001 U.N. convention. They can linger for years in the environment and build up in animals' fatty tissues. Some studies have shown traces of newer chemicals, including types of flame retardants.
The WWF said the three studies indicated a link between high levels of PCBs and pesticides in polar bears in Canada and on the Norwegian island of Svalbard and a lack of antibodies in their blood, making the bears more susceptible to infection. The studies also found altered hormone levels that could lead to everything from reproductive to behavioral problems.
"Most polar bears probably have several hundred human-made chemicals in their bodies, and they have never evolved mechanisms to deal with them," said Andrew Derocher, a scientist at the University of Alberta who has contributed to all recent studies. "The unintentional tinkering with the hormone and immune system of a polar bear is unlikely to be good for them."
Polar bears, whose favorite diet is fatty seals, often have high levels of contaminants which have also been found in the breast milk of Inuit women.
"Other contaminants with similar properties continue to be used on a day-to-day basis in manufacturing processes and products throughout the world," said Brettania Walker, toxics officer in WWF's Arctic Program. "It is crucial to prevent these newer-generation chemicals from accumulating in, and polluting, the environment."
The WWF urged stronger legislation in line with the strictest European Union proposals.