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Seals carry pollution burden
21 September 2006
The seals of east Greenland have much higher levels of a bromine-based pollutant than those in other parts of the Arctic, a study has found.
Frank Rigét and co-workers at the National Environmental Research Institute, Roskilde, Denmark, measured the levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the blubber of ringed seals from east Greenland, from samples taken between 1986 and 2004. They confirmed that the PDBE levels in seals from east Greenland in 2004 are approximately eight times higher than reported levels in seals from west Greenland, and significantly higher than reported levels in several other Arctic regions in 2004.
© Rune Dietz
PBDEs are used as flame retardants in many products and are transported from highly industrialised countries to the Arctic by air and sea currents. Knowledge of PBDEs in the Greenland environment has been relatively limited, said Rigét.
Birgit Braune, an expert on the impact of toxic chemicals on animals at the National Wildlife Research Centre in Ottawa, Canada, said the high levels of PBDEs in east Greenland has broader implications. 'Ringed seals are one of the traditional foods consumed by the human population of Greenland, and are the main food item of polar bears,' she said.
The study also confirmed that between 1986 and 2004, there has been no significant change in the PBDE levels detected. This contrasts the finding that levels of the similar pollutant, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), in seals in this region have decreased during this time.
Rigét 's team plan to follow this study up with time trend studies of PBDEs in polar bears from east Greenland, and in ringed seals from west Greenland. 'These studies will provide solid scientific background for policy and decision makers to decide if regulation action is needed to reduce emissions,' said Rigét.
F Rigét, K Vorkamp, R Dietz and S C Rastogi, J. Environ. Monit., 2006