Sources of contaminants in the Arctic

The main sources of contaminants in the Arctic are regarded as being the fairly densely populated and industrialised parts of the world. The substances are transported to the Arctic by winds and ocean currents. The contaminants are mainly accumulated in the marine food chains. The terrestrial food chains in the Arctic have low levels of contaminants. The Arctic functions in many ways as an indicator region for known and new contaminants. If a contaminant is discovered here, it is an indication that the substance is poorly degradable, is transported long distances and accumulates in marine food chains. 

Contaminants are emitted into the atmosphere or discharged into the sea and are carried to the Arctic by winds and ocean currents, rivers and melting ice.

Contaminants are emitted into the atmosphere or discharged into the sea and are carried to the Arctic by winds and ocean currents, rivers and melting ice. Illustration: AMAP

A few places in the Arctic have activities which may lead to local pollution of the environment. Rubbish and sewage from the settlements are a source for contaminants such as PAH, PCBs, siloxanes and fluorinated compounds. Mining takes place in several parts of the Arctic, like Svalbard, the Pechenga-Nikkeli district and Siberia, and it represents a local source for contaminants such as PAH, heavy metals and PCBs.

The contaminants are transported to the Arctic by rivers, winds and ocean currents, and new substances are constantly appearing. Even the "old" contaminants which are no longer being manufactured or used can be stored in the environment (in the ground, ocean, glaciers, ice, water or animals) for many years and thus constitute a problem for nature and the environment for a long time. Old contaminants in the environment or in wild animals which live a long time may thus be a secondary source of pollution.