5 March 2003
PCBs may be affecting Inuit babies: Study
(CP) — A study of Inuit babies in northern Quebec has detected
subtle nervous system and behavioural changes that appear to be
due to mercury and PCB contamination.
is believed to be the first scientific evidence that long-distance
air pollution is affecting human health in the Arctic.
study, led by Gina Muckle of Laval University and released today,
focused on infants about 11 months old at three communities in the
Nunavik region of Quebec.
infants showed subtle differences in visual memory and maintaining
attention, said David Stone, director of northern contaminants research
at the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
we're observing at the moment . . . is very subtle but statistically
significant," said Stone, who was interviewed at a symposium
on Arctic contaminants.
believe we are seeing effects that can be correlated both with mercury
and with PCBs," he said. "The important thing . . . is
exposure in the womb."
said the same kinds of neurological effects were observed in studies
of toxic contamination done in the Great Lakes and the Netherlands
20 to 30 years ago.
contamination of the Arctic became a concern after PCBs and dioxins
were discovered in the blood and breast milk of Inuit mothers in
the mid 1980s.
Inuit are vulnerable because such pollutants tend to build up in
the fat of fish and game animals, on which their diet is based.
face a dilemma because the health status of aboriginals who follow
a traditional diet is spectacularly better than of those who have
taken up the southern lifestyle, said Stone.
current focus is on advising aboriginals how to reduce their risk
of contamination while staying with the traditional diet. Some country
foods are far more likely to be contaminated than others.
leaders say there is a strong need for ongoing research and remedial
is an alarming situation for us," said Sheila Watt-Cloutier,
chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.
not surprised now that there are subtle effects are coming through.
We have a lot of questions here that need to be answered."
of the contamination in the Arctic comes from sources outside the
region, often thousands of kilometres away.
international treaties have been negotiated to curb long-range pollution,
and one of them is expected to receive enough ratifications to take
effect this year.
say the levels of PCBs in the Arctic are beginning to decline but
mercury has emerged as a major new concern.