Arctic Pollution Issues: A State of the Arctic Environment Report (1997)
A condensed version of the scientific/technical AMAP Assessment Report, presenting the information in a clear and readable manner for the non-scientific audience; richly illustrated and prefaced by an Executive Summary with recommendations specifically addressed to Ministers of the eight Arctic countries.
Pollution and human health
Many factors contribute to health and illness
in the Arctic: socioeconomic conditions, health
services, societal and cultural factors, individual
lifestyles and behaviors, and genetics. Contaminants
enter this already complex scene,
with the capacity to have physical, mental, and
social impacts on health. For example, fear of
contaminants and changes in traditional ways
of living can affect both community social
structure and individual mental well-being.
Climate change, ozone depletion, and ultraviolet radiation
Concerns about climate change stem from the
increasing concentration of greenhouse gases
in the atmosphere. These gases keep heat from
dissipating into space. According to the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
a continued increase at current rates could
raise the average global air temperature between
1 and 3.5°C by 2100. The average rate
of warming would likely be greater than any
seen in the past 10 000 years.
This chapter discusses risk scenarios for oil spills in marine as well as terrestrial environments, along with the
environmental impact of routine releases of contaminants from oil and gas exploration. Special sections of the
chapter are devoted to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Of all the contaminants associated with
petroleum production, these persistent organic pollutants present the greatest risk to environment and health.
PAHs also have several other sources that contribute to their load in the environment.
Acidification and Arctic Haze
This chapter describes local as well as regional emissions of acidifying
air contaminants, along with pathways and effects on the
Arctic environment. It also explores the future impact on northern
soils and waterways if the current emissions are not reduced.
Radioactivity is accompanied by the emission
of ionizing radiation, which can damage living
cells. Whereas estimates of radioactivity are
useful for making inventories of sources and
for tracing radionuclides in the environment,
health effects are connected to the dose
received by organisms, including people.
Metals occur naturally in the environment and
are present in rocks, soil, plants, and animals.
Metals occur in different forms: as ions dissolved
in water, as vapors, or as salts or minerals
in rock, sand, and soil. They can also be
bound in organic or inorganic molecules, or
attached to particles in the air. Both natural
and anthropogenic processes and sources emit
metals into air and water.
Persistent Organic Pollutants
This chapter examines organic chemicals that can affect the health of animals and people, especially those substances
that accumulate in Arctic food webs and that resist degradation. These are often called persistent organic pollutants, or
POPs. A review of known toxic effects and environmental levels of POPs forms the basis for evaluating whether Arctic
wildlife are affected by current levels of contamination. A summary of sources and pathways indicates where the contaminants
come from. Many measurements of organic contaminants have been made because of concern about high intake
by people, and the human health aspects of these substances are discussed in the chapter Pollution and Human Health.
Peoples of the North
Alaska is the northwestern-most of the United
States and the only state that extends into the
Arctic. Most of the state is included in the
AMAP assessment, the exception being the
southeastern ‘panhandle.’ It is a wider area
than the US definition of Arctic Alaska; see the
figure opposite. There are three groups of Alaska Natives,
commonly called Aleut, Inuit (or Eskimo), and
Indian. About 73000 of them live in the area
of AMAP’s responsibility, where they make up
about 15 percent of the population. In many
rural areas, they are in the majority.
A cold climate and long, dark winters have
profound effects on the environment in which
animals and plants try to survive. In addition,
the productive season is short, which means
that there is limited time to reproduce and to
gather stores of energy. Climatic conditions are
most severe in the northern parts of the AMAP
region, while some of its southern areas are
better described as subarctic or even northern
temperate, having fewer of the limitations typical
of the polar region.
Physical pathways of contaminant transport
The atmosphere contains relatively small
amounts of contaminants compared with the
total load in polar soil, sediments, and water.
However, the rapid movement of air makes it
an important pathway for delivering contaminants
to the Arctic. Any chemically stable,
Arctos is Greek for bear, and the Arctic region
derives its name from the stellar constellation
of Ursa major, the Great Bear. A common geographical
definition of the Arctic is the area
north of the Arctic Circle (66°32'N), which
encircles the area of the midnight sun.
Environmental protection of the Arctic
AMAP’s first objective has been to provide
information for a comprehensive assessment
report on threats from pollution to Arctic ecosystems.
The assessment was to identify possible
causes for changing conditions, detect
emerging problems, and recommend actions
required to reduce risks to Arctic ecosystems.
Impacts of a Warming Arctic