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Environmental pollution

The Polar Regions are particularly exposed to the effects of pollutants emitted in other parts of the globe (Box 2).

Box 2: International conventions addressing Arctic contaminants
Most of the critical contaminants impacting the Arctic environment and the health of its inhabitants come from distant sources. The solution to these problems, therefore, lies in regional and global efforts to reduce worldwide emissions of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metal pollutants.
2003 marked the entry into force of two important regional protocols under the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) set up under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
The Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), entered into force on 23 October 2003. It bans or severely restricts the use of 16 substances, including 11 pesticides, two industrial chemicals and three industrial by-products/contaminants.
The LRTAP protocol on heavy metals entered into force on 29 December 2003, and targets cadmium, lead and mercury. Parties are required, by 2012, to reduce their emissions for these three metals below their level in 1990 (or an alternative year between 1985–1995). It will target industrial sources (metals industry), combustion processes (power generated and road transport) and waste incineration
Sources: AMAP 2003b, UNECE 2003


Though most sources of pollutants are located far from the Polar Regions, some human-made chemicals can be transported over long distances by prevalent winds, ocean currents and other mechanisms such as grasshopping of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) (Wania and Mackay 1996) and have an impact on the polar environment through a variety of biological and chemical mechanisms.
The resident population of the Arctic bears the effects of environmental pollution. Indigenous people are particularly exposed to heavy metal and persistent organic contaminants through their traditional diets based on marine mammals. In some areas of East Greenland, up to 100 per cent of the population was found to have levels of blood contamination higher than a ‘level of concern’, and 30 per cent were over the level of action at which people were advised to reduce their intake of traditional food (Figure 2) (AMAP 2003a).

Figure 2: Percentage of blood samples taken from indigenous and non-indigenous women of reproductive age that had mercury levels exceeding US EPA and Health Canada guidelines

Source: AMAP 2003a


Indigenous peoples’ organizations are undertaking a number of monitoring programmes to assess the risks and benefits associated with traditional diets and to design community-level strategies to cope with the situation (Crump 2003).

Figure 3: The 2003 ozone hole over Antarctica dark blue denoting high levels of ozone depletion was very large, close to the all-time record.

Source: NASA 2003


Implementation of the 1979 Geneva Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (Box 2) and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is important for reducing the burden of contamination on the Arctic and its inhabitants

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