Ice-melt may slow toxin crackdown

A thaw of the Arctic linked to climate change may slow efforts to rid the region of the worst industrial chemicals, Reuters quoted an Arctic expert as saying. Summer sea-ice shrinkage may allow some of the pollutants that are most harmful to people and wildlife to evaporate into the atmosphere, said Lars-Otto Reiersen, of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP).

Once released from beneath sea ice, the most persistent organic pollutants (POPs) could spread further, said Reiersen, executive secretary of the eight-nation Arctic group. This week, about 150 nations are meeting in Geneva to consider adding nine chemicals, including pesticides and flame retardants, to the 12 – the “dirty dozen” — banned by a 2001 United Nations accord. That pact was inspired in part by worries about the Arctic environment.

“Climate change may … delay the impact in the environment of policy actions against POPs,” according to an AMAP report to be presented in Geneva. Also, some chemicals trapped in glaciers or permafrost may get washed out by a melt, which UN climate experts mainly blame on greenhouse gases released by burning fossil fuels.

Lightning may trigger more fires, due to drier forests. That could release PCBs, one of the “dirty dozen” chemicals used in paints or electric transformers, trapped in forest soils. The 12 chemicals have been linked to cancers, birth defects and brain damage. The Arctic is vulnerable to POPs, swept north by prevailing winds or currents from Europe, North America and Asia, partly because the chemicals lodge in fatty tissues of both humans and Arctic wildlife.

Arctic sea ice shrank in September 2007 to the smallest level since satellite records began.

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