Chemicals Spark Arctic Alert

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 29 Sep 2002
Time: 15:33:22
Remote Name:


Chemicals Spark Arctic Alert

Chemicals used to make household products fire-resistant are being discovered in several Arctic species. The chemicals, brominated flame retardants, appear to be concentrated in the Norwegian Arctic. They are being found in the region's polar bears, whose cubs have a lower survival rate than elsewhere. They are also turning up in seabirds' eggs, and local people are now being warned not to eat them.

The extent of the contamination is disclosed by the BBC Radio 4 programme Costing The Earth, broadcast in the UK on Thursday.
Ominous decade Concern about pollution of the Arctic by a range of chemicals, including PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and DDT, is not new.

Scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) in Tromso told the BBC those compounds were a gradually diminishing problem.
But levels of the brominated flame retardants (BFRs) were rising, in bears, seals, foxes and glaucous gulls.
Geir Wing Gabrielsen has been carrying out research for 20 years in Svalbard, the archipelago half-way between Norway and the North Pole.

He told the programme: "Levels of these brominated compounds are three times higher in Canadian seals than they were 10 years ago. "In Svalbard, the bear cub survival rate is half what you find in Canada and Alaska.

"There, about 42% of the bears live to the age of 15 or more. In Svalbard the figure is 11%." 

Egg Advice

Geir Wing Gabrielsen is also concerned about pollution in seabirds' eggs. He and his colleagues have extended their research this year from colonies in northern Norway to Svalbard, Russia's Kola peninsula, and the Faeroe islands.

He told BBC News Online: "We've found high levels of PCBs, dioxins and some of the new contaminants in the eggs.

"On Bear Island, just to the south of Svalbard, we found dead and dying gulls with PCB levels in their brains a hundred times higher than in healthy birds.

"Some people in mainland Norway are very fond of the eggs. But eating a single one can increase your body burden of these organic pollutants by10%. We're advising children and women of child-bearing age not to eat any."

BFRs are used in television sets, car interiors, computers and some fabrics. Dr Hans Wolkers, a toxicologist at NPI, said their concentrations in the environment were doubling every five years.

Double-Edged Sword

He told Costing the Earth: "They've not been tested. They were a blessing, and really did save a lot of lives.

"But we may face effects similar to those we saw with PCBs. I call them the PCBs of the future, and at NPI we really think they should be restricted."

Gwynne Lyons, of WWF, the global environment campaign, told the programme: "The BFRs certainly should ring alarm bells.

"They've been shown to affect behavior in laboratory animals, particularly brain development, and that sort of effect on learning seems to get worse as the animal ages.

"I think we should be incredibly careful about these chemicals. They may upset brain development in children."

Dr Kit Kovacs of NPI is worried at what the BFRs may be doing already. She said: "For Arctic peoples that are eating marine mammals, it's a very serious concern.

"The level of pollutants in mothers' milk in Greenland is a horrific concern there, and to the broader global community. They're ingesting highly polluted food, and producing highly polluted milk."

Toxics more valuable than democracy? By : Alan Farago

From: Benjamin Reuter
Date: 14 Apr 2005
Time: 08:34:15
Remote Name:


ORLANDO SENTINEL edpfarago12041205apr12,1,7236664.story?coll=orl-opinion-headlines Toxics more valuable than democracy? By Alan Farago Special to the Sentinel April 12, 2005 "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Really? It is worth revisiting these cornerstones of our democracy. Recently, three farm-worker families in a neighborhood of Immokalee gave birth to severely deformed children -- one without arms or legs, one without the capacity to keep his tongue from sliding back into his throat, and one without a nose, an ear and with no visible sexual organs. The story was reported in the Palm Beach Post, "Why was Carlitos born this way?" These three families share the same neighborhood, work with the same agricultural chemicals, and they are from the same deeply religious community devoted to the living lessons of Christ. More infants than we care to acknowledge are being denied the fundamental liberties asserted by our democracy because of the exposure of the fetus to toxic chemicals. Why isn't it the first priority of government to ensure that Creation is cared for and that toxics don't strip fetuses of their fundamental liberties? Every moment of life is equally valuable, but if the cell division in the fetus a mother carries is deformed by toxics, equality is impossible. For these stricken families, happiness, liberty and choice are illusions. A few years ago, Lori Glenn's extent of involvement in the environment was helping to protect a local park. One of her employees -- she runs a small business in Lee County supplying roses to restaurants -- was stricken by incurable cancer. A 5-year-old niece was dying of leukemia. Out of the blue, she was approached by someone who suspected that, because she cared for a park, maybe she would be the right person to ask if she knew about the people dying of cancer in Cape Coral. Glenn hadn't, but she was worried. She had the health of two small children to think about, too. Her first thought was for the Caloosahatchee River, which drains hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. Glenn started making phone calls to government agencies to see what testing is done for pesticides in drinking water. In 1998, the U.S. Geological Survey had studied heavy metal concentration and pesticides in the river and found chlordane, among other pesticides, at several times higher than the probable biological effect. She began asking questions that made Florida environmental agencies uncomfortable. The state Department of Health told her that the cancer cluster in Cape Coral was inconclusive: "People move around a lot." It is very complicated, the state's environmental agency told her -- and it is. Glenn believes that government regulation of toxics is a web of interlocking systems designed to fail. Precaution is never a bright line because the legislative and executive branches of government lean in favor of polluting industries that can afford to lobby and contribute heavily to political campaigns. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has broad authority to regulate chemicals that present an "unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment." But the EPA can request data from industry only when it can provide evidence that the substance may present an unreasonable risk of injury, or can lead to significant or substantial human exposure. Without additional data from industry, the federal agency can generally not produce this evidence. The EPA recently abandoned its plan to take funds from the American Chemistry Council to collaborate with industry to produce data by giving families that regularly used pesticides indoors in a low-income neighborhood of Duval County $970 plus a camcorder and children's clothing. Benjamin Franklin was 81 at the time delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia sought his blessing. Only a few years earlier -- roughly the span of time between the first Clinton administration and today -- he had helped Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence. Although he agreed to support the Constitution, his view was dim: "I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other." Maybe on that day, Benjamin Franklin was cranky. Maybe the man who invented bifocals had binoculars into the 21st century. But more likely, with a lifetime of experience behind him, Franklin had seen enough revolutions born of moral enthusiasm to know which was the greater threat to democracy. Alan Farago, a writer on the environment and politics, can be reached at He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.

Last changed: March 14, 2006