Groups want Arctic toxin study; Pollution said to be on the rise

Posted: Friday, October 13, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Native groups and others are seeking a study of toxins in the Arctic. That comes after another report was released this week indicating that pollution is rising in the North's food chain.

Scientists working on many separate studies have documented over the past decade the increasing presence of such things as PCBs, DDT, dioxin and arsenic in Alaska's air, water, wildlife and people.

The toxins rarely appear in concentrations that directly threaten human health, and doctors say Alaskans should continue to eat wild foods. But the stubborn presence of these pollutants in the Arctic environment has raised a number of questions about their long-term effects.

''These contaminants are coming here from thousands of miles away, and over time they are accumulating in the food chain,'' said Alaska Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer. ''For people who consume these foods -- the seal and the whale and the birds and the fish -- we need to know more.''

''The fact that we're finding any of these chemicals that aren't used in the Arctic in the Arctic is alarming,'' added Carl Hild, from the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska. ''When we're finding them in tissues and umbilical cord blood, that's alarming.''

A coalition of a dozen government agencies and Native groups on Thursday called for a comprehensive U.S. program to track the pollutants, document their effects and determine the risks.

The program would coordinate research and monitoring, draw on traditional Native knowledge and observations, educate people about the risks and work with other Arctic nations to eliminate their use.

An organized, systematic approach is needed, according to a report by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and 10 other agencies and organizations.

''Something is happening in America's Arctic, and we need to find out what it is,'' said Lisa Guide, Interior deputy assistant secretary for policy management, speaking at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

Gov. Tony Knowles announced Wednesday that he had appointed a cabinet-level team to study the report and come up with a plan of action this winter.

Among other things, Knowles said he would ask President Clinton to take a strong stand on an international treaty that would ban 12 of the most serious organic pollutants.

Final negotiations among 120 countries will take place in South Africa in December.

On Thursday evening in Barrow, Ulmer presented the report and its recommendations to the Arctic Council, which comprises the countries that border the Arctic Ocean.

Many of the report's authors plan to discuss the threat of contaminants in a panel discussion next week at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage.

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