Mercury in Canada’s Arctic: Why we should be paying closer attention

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Image from Wikipedia.
Image from Wikipedia.

Ottawa – Mercury occurs naturally in the environment, but when levels increase it acts as a neurotoxin that has adverse effects on all kinds of wildlife.

Marine birds, which are often used as indicators of ecosystem health, have been monitored since the mid-1970s for mercury concentrations across the Canadian North. Current mercury levels in several species have concentrations that are at or near levels associated with impaired reproduction. And climate change may be making it worse.

Jennifer Provencher, a researcher at Carleton University, recently completed a study on how climate change is resulting in increased mercury exposure to Arctic wildlife, specifically marine birds. Since some of these birds are harvested for human consumption, the increased mercury levels could have serious implications on human health.

Provencher’s award-winning study concludes that research on marine birds should continue to focus on patterns of mercury contamination, and assess the biological effects and possible implications for human health.

The build-up of mercury and other pollutants in the Arctic has been a growing problem for decades, since these chemicals tend to accumulate in animal fat, affecting wildlife as it travels up the food chain.

In its seventh State of the Arctic Environment Report, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), an international research body, found that substantial amounts of mercury were reaching the Arctic via long-range transport from human sources further south.

In Arctic Pollution 2011, the AMAP specifically addressed key ministers of the eight Arctic countries, and recommended those countries initiate “global action to reduce mercury levels.”

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