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Water Today Title March 22, 2018

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Update 2017/4/28


By Cori Marshall

The report on Chemicals of Emerging Arctic Concern (CEAC) forms the second part of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) study. Martin Forsius, of the Finnish Environment Institute SKYE and the AMAP Working Group Chair, said "We looked at new chemicals, that are in addition to traditional pollutants and their impact on the Arctic, and what the sources [of these pollutants] are."

CEAC are chemicals that are registered for use, and have recently entered the market, or are being identified through "improved analytical technologies, [as well as] research and screening programmes," where in the past they have gone unidentified. Further, these chemicals are "newly and recently detected in Arctic ecosystems." This assessment considered a list of seventeen substances.

The CAEC report states that "several substances are now globally regulated under the Stockholm Convention." The problem is that as chemical substances become regulated and are phased out, they are replaced with "other chemicals, often with broadly similar characteristics." As it stands now, "most [CAEC] are not subject to international (global) regulation."

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which was adopted in May 2001, protects the environment and the wellbeing of people from chemicals that have a long lifespan in the environment.

The report points to a major issue when it comes to regulation of chemical pollutants. The assessment underlined that "several decades can pass between the introduction of a new chemical and an eventual agreement to ban or restrict its use." Once it has been added to the Stockholm Convention it also takes time before levels of a substance begin to decrease in the environment.

What is more alarming is that it could be "several decades after a chemical has entered the environment before unintended harmful effects on wildlife or humans are first noticeable."

One of the substances on the CAEC list is microplastics. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines microplastics as "plastic debris less than five millimeters in length." Plastic is very prevalent in our oceans, and larger pieces can break down into finer particulates.

Lars-Otto Reiersen, AMAP Secretariat, said "I am not surprised that we find microplastics in the Arctic, you will see that it is distributed all over the world by ocean current."

Many of the chemicals that are considered in the CAEC 2017 can be found in everyday consumer goods, hence could be due to use in local communities. Further the report mentions that human presence in the Arctic is growing, and the presence of some substances may be due to "industrial activities such as mining and gas exploration." Some of the presence can be attributed to waste and sewage.

Older models explaining the presence of POPs in the Arctic "considered air to be the primary delivery route." Recent findings are indicating that some CAEC are "more soluble in water than conventional POPs, and appear to be brought to the Arctic via Ocean currents." Chemicals have many routes to the north.

Even though more is being revealed, there are still unanswered questions. The assessment said that "information is not sufficient to conclude that emerging chemicals present a low risk." Researchers are unsure which of these new substances will accumulate in local wildlife or how they will affect people "whose diets depend heavily on local wildlife." There are also gaps in the monitoring information as the group is lacking CAEC data for Alaska and Russia.

The is very little understanding of the cumulative effects of these substances once they intermingle with legacy POPs, coupled with the stress of climate change on the biodiversity of the Arctic. AMAP plans to focus on biological effects in future assessments.

Join us tomorrow, see how adaptation to environmental changes can take place in the Arctic, as we look at the AMAP's Adaptation Changes for a Changing Arctic.

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