Health Issues
Changing Environment and Human Health

The Arctic environment is vulnerable to both local and global pollution. This pollution may be caused by mining industries, pesticide use, oil spills, and the introduction of other environmental contaminants from southern countries that collect in the Arctic. Already, chemical contaminants that are called persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been detected in the traditional foods of indigenous people living in the Arctic. Because of the cold Arctic weather, the degradation of POPs is slow, and POPs are collecting in the bodies of local animals. The concentration of POPs is especially high in the blubber of whales and seals. When humans eat foods with POPs, the contaminants build up in a person’s body and are very hard to get rid of.

Studies have shown that different indigenous groups in the Arctic have levels of POPs in their bodies that exceed the acceptable levels determined by the World Health Organization. How this affects people is uncertain, as exposure occurs at low levels over a long period of time. POPs may be the source of certain types of cancers or birth defects, or could affect the immune system, reproduction, liver function, or neurological development.

For this International Polar Year, projects have been proposed to assess the impact of environmental contaminants on people living in the Arctic. FP356 is a circumpolar project studying possible associations between environmental contaminants and pregnancy outcomes. As a subpart of this proposal, EoI 1113, researchers will be determining if the interactions of different contaminants in the environment are causing unexpected harmful health effects. We look forward to the results of these projects, which will help us identify how environmental contaminants are affecting the health of Arctic populations.