Coal burning leaves toxic heavy metal legacy in the Arctic (PNAS)

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) – Toxic heavy metals emitted by industrial activities in the midlatitudes are transported through the atmosphere and deposited in the polar regions; bioconcentration and biomagnification in the food chain mean that even low levels of atmospheric deposition may threaten human health and Arctic ecosystems. Little is known about sources and long-term trends of most heavy metals before ≈1980, when modern measurements began, although heavy-metal pollution in the Arctic was widespread during recent decades. Lacking detailed, long-term measurements until now, ecologists, health researchers, and policy makers generally have assumed that contamination was highest during the 1960s and 1970s peak of industrial activity in North America and Europe. We present continuous 1772–2003 monthly and annually averaged deposition records for highly toxic thallium, cadmium, and lead from a Greenland ice core showing that atmospheric deposition was much higher than expected in the early 20th century, with tenfold increases from preindustrial levels by the early 1900s that were two to five times higher than during recent decades.

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