POPs Report (2000)
Expert Group on Ecosystem Based Management – In May 2011, Arctic Council Ministers called for the establishment of an expert group on ecosystem-based management (EBM) for the Arctic environment. The experts group was tasked with fostering a common understanding of EBM across the Arctic Council and developing recommendations for advancing EBM in the coastal, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems of the Arctic. CCU participated in the work of the experts group, contributing knowledge and expertise in marine EBM, participating in two of the three meetings held by the experts group, and working intersessionally with various participants to fulfill the mandate given to the group. In addition, CCU participated in the 2011 Expert Workshop convened by the PAME Secretariat to contribute to the development of the Arctic Ocean Review Phase II report. CCU was an invited speaker on living marine resources at the workshop, and further participated in the meeting to review the Phase II draft report held in September, 2012 in Halifax.
Arctic Ocean Advocacy
U.S. Arctic Science and Ocean Policy - CCU Advisory Board Member Jim Ayers is currently working with several conservation organizations in discussions with the Department of Interior, NOAA, United States Coast Guard and the White House in addressing the importance of further Arctic science as well as preparation and response capabilities prior to further oil and gas exploration and shipping in the Arctic. This work has included the imperative of identifying and protecting Important Subsistence and Ecological Areas through standards, deferrals and ultimately designations. This effort is collaborative and strategically oriented to build the support in the United States within communities, State, and Federal Government that will provide paradigms and added weight to International work with other specific States and at the Arctic Council. Recently this has included designed approaches and the work of specific recommended standards, deferrals, and designations in U.S. actions. It also included assistance in the U.S. Senate in the introduction of Arctic Science legislation sponsored by Alaska Senator Mark Begich and Co-Sponsor Lisa Murkowski (S. 3613) that requires and funds Arctic monitoring, observation, and research including the identification of Important Subsistence and Ecological Areas. It is intended to continue in the next Congress and be included in the U.S. approach to Arctic International discussions at the Arctic Council and other forums. Jim was also an advisor and member of USCG Incident Specific Preparedness and Response review panel of the Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which included specific recommendations for change that would apply directly in protecting the Arctic.
CCU seeks to build institutional support and human capital for advocacy on Arctic issues. We were the first to mobilize foundation funders in the US and Canada around circumpolar issues as early as 1995. Our convening in 1998 motivated W Alton Jones Foundation to fund the work of organizing around and ratifying the POPs Treaty, and for a variety of funders to begin focusing more seriously on climate impacts. First time ever briefings on Arctic indigenous issues were presented to International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP) and Grantmakers Without Borders (GwoB). In 2005, CCU held a media training on climate change for Arctic indigenous leaders.
Arctic Voices Global Warming Tour (2005)
The Arctic is increasingly vulnerable to global processes, and is melting dramatically. The findings of the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) are clear: human-induced global warming is severely affecting the Arctic here and now and will significantly impact every aspect of life in the region. The polar region serves as the environmental early warning system for the impacts the rest of the world will soon experience. The ACIA findings confirm the observations that Arctic indigenous peoples—eyewitnesses on the front line of climate change today— have been making for three decades: ice conditions and the behavior of animals have been changing; invasive species are moving north; weather has become dangerously unpredictable; and, more recently, whole villages are rapidly eroding into the sea. If these changes continue unabated, the age-old culture of Arctic indigenous peoples will quite literally melt away.
As part of our Engaging Arctic Voices initiative, Circumpolar Conservation Union (CCU), in association with the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples Secretariat, will bring Arctic indigenous leaders as spokespersons on a multi-state Arctic Voices Global Warming Tour from April 28th – May 8th. The tour will enable this unique delegation to share their stories in key venues as they press the U.S. to act immediately to curb global warming and protect all of its citizens from the impacts of climate change..
While polls show that a majority of Americans now believe global warming is happening, they still do not believe that it will soon affect them directly, nor do they understand that only a narrow window of opportunity remains to ensure the long-term well-being of our planet and our society. Arctic indigenous peoples’ ability to show the “human face” of global warming, and to personalize the impacts of climate change, resonates with audiences and moves them in a way that no recitation of scientific evidence can achieve.
The Tour will travel to Little Rock, AR; the Twin Cities in Minnesota; Cleveland, OH; and Warrenton, Virginia; all key states in the policy debate on global warming. We will also stop in Washington, D.C. to present to policy-makers. Our tour speaks to the ethical imperative for immediate action to end global warming pollution. We have engaged partners in the faith, indigenous, and university communities in our states, and are employing the expertise of San Francisco-based Resource Media to aid in communications for the tour.
Arctic indigenous leaders Olav-Mathis Eira, Vice-President of the Saami Council; Sarah James, Board Member fo the Gwich’in Steering Committee and Goldman Environmental prizewinner; and Sheila Watt-Cloutier, United Nations Champion of the Earth, former Chair of Inuit Circumpolar Conference and recent Nobel Peace Prize nominee are now engaged in the Tour.
These leaders are also committed to the next step of Engaging Arctic Voices through the establishment an Arctic Resource Center, and will be speaking to the need for the Center in order to raise the profile of current and pending Arctic threats, and to ensure the long-term involvement of Arctic peoples in policy-formation in our Nation’s capital.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in Alaska: What Does Science Tell Us (2000)
Produced by Circumpolar Conservation Union In Cooperation with Alaska Community Action on Toxics
October 2000 – (Full Report in PDF format POPs Report)
For most people in the U.S., few places seem more remote than the Alaska, conjuring up images of large expanses of pristine, isolated wilderness. It is unlikely, however, that when most people in the U.S. think about Alaska, they imagine a huge sink for toxic chemicals. These chemicals, though not widely-used in the circumpolar regions, are slowly and inexorably building up there in the fat and tissues of creatures up to the highest levels of the food chain – including men, women, and nursing infants.
Much of the evidence for the accumulation of persistent organic pollutants – POPs – in the Arctic has come from countries other than the U.S. While a substantial body of information has been developed regarding the mechanisms and impacts of pollution in the Canadian Arctic and in Europe, a similar depth of data has not existed about the U.S. Arctic. The purpose of this report is to provide a brief synthesis of what is known about POPs in Alaska. The focus is on the food web which is the basis for the subsistence diet of many Native Alaskan communities, and the human health impacts of the contamination of that web. This includes an overview of the scope of current and ongoing research on contaminants in Alaska and, based on that, the identification of gaps in knowledge about POPs contamination in Alaska.
It is critical to acknowledge that traditional knowledge is key to understanding environmental changes in Alaska. Observations based on traditional environmental knowledge have increasingly noted diseases and abnormalities in species of fish and wildlife relied upon for food by Native peoples. On-line reports of discussions in Native villages in different areas of Alaska are used in this report to supplement and enhance mainstream data sources, which cannot fully encompass the scope and impact of contamination in tables and statistics alone. Published reports identifying and describing the use and significance of traditional foods are also critical in helping determine pathways of exposure and the magnitude of effects of persistent toxic contaminants.
An Overview of POPs
Persistent organic pollutants are a group of chemicals which are defined by certain shared key characteristics. They are man-made organic compounds and highly toxic. They persist in the environment, and bioaccumulate in living organisms, often preferentially in the lipid, or fatty, tissues. They are able to travel long distances around the globe, due in part to their tendency to degrade very slowly, and their ability to evaporate and recondense (called volatilization and revolatilization, or global distillation) – sometimes in repeated cycles – as they travel north. They migrate to northern climates because of strong south to north air flows, which transport contaminants from lower latitudes. Most POPs are industrial chemicals or pesticides which were invented for specific uses, but some, such as the dioxins and furans, are byproducts of industrial and incineration activities in which chlorinated chemicals are significant constituents.
Twelve POPs have been identified as targets for early global action in the POPs Treaty negotiations currently underway under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, chlordane, DDT, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (dioxin), and polychlorinated furans (furans). Also included in this report is hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), the gamma (_) isomer of which is familiar to many people as the pesticide lindane used for head lice. HCH, while not on the current UNEP POPs list, is widely considered a significant Arctic contaminant.
Why Are POPs in Alaska of Concern?
• Animals at the top of the food chain, high in the food web (e.g., trophic level), are the most exposed to many contaminants. Humans are at the top of the food chain.
• Contaminants in the blubber and tissues of several Arctic wildlife species, such as polar bears, seals, Arctic fox, and beluga whales, have been found in levels equal to or higher than those in experimental lab animals. Marine mammals are a critical part of the subsistence diet in many northern communities. Contaminants have also been found in fish, which comprise 60% of the traditional foods relied upon by Alaska Natives and other Alaskans for subsistence.
• It is unknown whether or not levels of POPs will increase or decrease in the environment in the future, but increases of some chemicals are likely.
• Both infants and adults in initial human epidemiological studies in Alaska have shown concentrations of some POPs contaminants in their blood. Infants from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta have the highest levels of DDT metabolites in their blood of any infants in the circumpolar region.
Issues of Arctic contamination are of particular concern to Alaska Natives and other indigenous Arctic peoples for two important reasons. First is a widespread belief that existing, and especially recent, information concerning environmental contaminants has not been widely shared, leading to apprehension among Alaska Natives. Second is the reality that this issue is not merely one of scientific curiosity but is, in fact, of crucial importance because of the safety of traditional foods. These foods are not only a significant part of the diet of many Alaska Natives and a source of important nutrition, but are also pivotal to the cultural and spiritual life of the people.
Why this report?
The intent, therefore, of this report is to bring together in one place a synthesis and review of different repositories of information about contaminants in Alaska to increase the overall understanding of the current state of knowledge. In addition, there is a critical need to develop a more comprehensive and accurate assessment of the impacts of POPs contamination on public health. A solid foundation of data is imperative to inform the public about the magnificent resource represented by the U.S. Arctic and the dangers to it from POPs contamination. A solid foundation of data is also imperative if policy makers are going to make the best decisions and allocate the resources required to accomplish the joint goals of public health and environmental protection.
Everything begins with the food web
In reviewing what is known about POPs in Alaska, the effort has been to build a picture of the food web upon which Alaska Natives rely for their subsistence diet, often referred to as “traditional foods”. Information in this report is therefore divided into three main areas, which mirror the path of the bioaccumulation of contaminants up the food chain: contaminants in environmental media (air, water, sediments, soil), contaminants in animals, also called biota or wildlife, (fish, birds, invertebrates, terrestrial and marine mammals), and contaminants in humans. This report also includes tables showing the results of several studies which either included Alaska-specific data or were investigations exclusively devoted to Alaska.
This report demonstrates that there are virtually no areas of research in the Alaskan arctic in which there are no gaps. In a sense, the gaps define the landscape. Fish represent almost 60% of the subsistence diet of most Alaska Natives, particularly salmon, yet there are virtually no studies that have measured the contaminant levels in salmon in the areas where they are most frequently harvested. Levels of POPs contaminants have been found in other fish and shellfish, however. Terrestrial animals contribute significantly to the diets of many Alaska Natives living in the interior, yet there are no studies which have looked in depth at the degree and scope of contamination in these animals. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons have been studied, however, and both have shown effects from pesticide levels in the hatchability of eggs. Finally, although studies of marine mammals including polar bears, whales, seals, and sea lions have been done, all of which have showed contaminants in the blubber of these animals, many questions remain unanswered with regard to trends and effects.
The most significant gap from a public health perspective is the lack of information on to what extent the Alaska Native population has been significantly exposed to POPs and whether health effects have been seen as a result. Three small studies with humans are cited in this report; one important source of ongoing research is a project measuring the levels of contaminants in the blood in the umbilical cords of women giving birth in rural Alaska.
Important gaps about environmental contamination also exist. There is a lack of information about the behavior and fate of POPs and other contaminants in the western Arctic ecosystem, extending from Alaska to Russia. There is much to learn about to how to measure these contaminants, information about long-range trends and inputs into the Arctic, and long-range sources of dioxins and furans.
One of most significant barriers to the development of a coherent body of knowledge regarding the U.S. Arctic has been the lack of a well-organized, centrally coordinated effort to collect existing information, facilitate the development and direction of needed research, and leverage funding.
Recommendations and Priorities
1. The creation of a strong national Arctic contaminants research and monitoring program in the U.S. Defining key species for monitoring would be a useful first step in establishing such a program. This would likely be based on potential for bioaccumulation, frequency of use as a food source, and ecological importance. It is also crucial that effective communication about contaminants be provided to citizens and policy-makers in a long-term and comprehensive effort to protect the public’s health. This initiative must include funding and resources to assure continuity of projects and excellence in achievement.
2. Conduct a comprehensive survey and documentation of the main contaminants found in Alaska and identification of their sources.
3. Investigate long-term and temporal trends in levels of POPs contaminants, including loading and interactions between various environmental compartments.
4. Establish a comprehensive health effects project to evaluate and monitor human health in Alaska populations highly exposed to POPs contaminants. What are the health effects of POPs contaminants on humans who are most at risk? What are the reproductive, endocrine, immune, developmental and other impacts on these populations? Is there a relationship in humans between body burden levels of POPs and the incidence of diseases? How do environmental exposures to air, water, snow, and ice increase body burdens of POPs contaminants in humans?
5. Develop detailed information about food consumption patterns and contaminant intake levels by Alaskans who rely upon traditional and wild foods for subsistence. Where do the greatest exposures come from and how can they be decreased?
6. Investigate contaminant exposure patterns and pathways of exposure in humans and wildlife in Alaska. What are the health effects of POPs contaminants on the animal species most at risk? What are the reproductive, endocrine, immune, developmental and other impacts on these populations? How do environmental exposures to air, water, snow, and ice increase body burdens of POPs contaminants in different species, to what extent, and through what mechanisms?
7. Reduce and eliminate exposure to persistent chemicals through rigorous, preventive measures at the international, national and local levels. Such as achieving and ratifying a global, legally binding POPs Treaty; ratifying the Aarhus (POPs) Protocol to the ECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution; and creating a national northern contaminants program, that educates and involves citizens at the state and local level.
These steps should be grounded upon the implementation of the two following basic principles:
The involvement and integration of Alaska Native people in the design and implementation of a comprehensive contaminants research program. This is critical if the full range of environmental, cultural, and public health effects of POPs contamination are to be understood and meaningfully addressed. The observations and theories of indigenous peoples provide a unique and invaluable perspective in the process of hypothesis generation, analysis of conditions, and interpretation of results.
The application of the precautionary principle as the framework for analyzing the outcomes of research initiatives and determining the direction of policy decisions to be implemented. The precautionary principle holds that where there is scientific evidence an activity threatens wildlife, the environment or human health, protective measures should be taken even in the absence of scientific certainty. This shifts the burden of proof and requires a show of no harm as a prerequisite for the production or continued use of any chemical which has the potential for harmful health or environmental impacts.
We do not yet know whether people living in Alaska are being exposed to enough of these chemicals to cause harmful health effects. Greater attention and dedication of resources to the sources and implications of such persistent pollutants could result in a greater ability of Alaska and the U.S. to protect its interests and peoples.