Half-million dollars allocated for contaminants research

Posted: Monday, December 18, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A half-million dollars in federal money has been allocated so that Alaska tribes can work with state government to research contaminants in the state.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recently received the money, spearheaded by Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, for the yearlong study.

Researchers have met with several state, federal and Alaska Native organizations to begin determining what the focus of the study should be and if it will be statewide or rurally centered.

The Atlanta-based agency works closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Organized in 1985, the agency's main job is to identify communities where people have been exposed to hazardous substances in the environment and to recommend actions to protect them.

Research in Alaska will look at possible contaminants in people, subsistence foods and the land, organizers said.

Several studies in recent years have shown a growing concern over contaminants migrating northward. Of greatest concern are persistent organic pollutants, which include DDTs, PCBs and dioxins.

These toxins don't break down as quickly in the cold Arctic, according to a study conducted by state, federal and Native organizations that was released in September.

As these contaminants flow in the air and water, they make their way into the food chain, and are eventually eaten by fish, sea mammals and birds.

The study showed that toxins are already affecting these foods. Adak Island sea otters have DDT concentrations up to 36 times greater than sea otters in Southeast Alaska.

In peregrine falcons along the Interior and Arctic regions, mercury was reported at high enough levels to be harmful to reproduction. Studies have found elevated DDT levels in Aleutian bald eagles, PCBs and pesticides in beluga whale blubber, and persistent organic pollutants in Western-area Steller sea lions.

When these foods are eaten by indigenous peoples, contaminants in those subsistence foods are transferred to those who eat it.

The risk of contamination doesn't seem to be as great in adults as in their children, the study said. Unborn children, infants and nursing babies receive these toxins through their mothers.

The agency will work closely with the state Office of Tribal Affairs in gathering information for the study.

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