ENVIROMENTAL SCIENCE

Arctic After-Effects

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Science  09 Jun 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5472, pp. 1707
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5472.1707c

Toxic chemicals can persist for long periods of time in high-latitude oceans. Two recent papers highlight the long-term effects of water pollution, whether from acute episodes such as oil spills or the chronic introduction of chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), in marine mammals. Monson et al. examined how the Alaskan sea otters have fared since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill by examining mortality data to determine the age distribution at death of sea otters in Prince William Sound from 1976 to 1998. Although sea otters born after the spill were less affected, decreased survival rates persist for sea otters of all ages. One method for monitoring the persistence of PCBs and other chlorinated organic species, such as those used in many pesticides, is to examine their levels in predatory marine mammals.

Muir et al. have estimated part of the geographical distribution of PCBs and organochlorine pesticides across the Arctic from northern Canada across Greenland and into northern Russia by examining the blubber of ringed seals taken in local subsistence hunting. They find higher levels of PCBs, especially the less readily degraded penta- and hexachlorinated species, in the European and Russian Arctic, which they attribute to the continued use of PCBs in Russian electrical equipment.—PDS

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., in press; Environ. Sci. Technol., in press.

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