Study warns of mercury pollution in Arctic

Associated Press / May 6, 2011

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STOCKHOLM — Global mercury emissions could increase 25 percent by 2020 if no action is taken to control them, posing a threat to polar bears, whales, and seals and the Arctic communities who hunt those animals for food, according to an authoritative international study.

The study by a scientific body set up by the eight Arctic rim countries also warns climate change may worsen the problem by releasing mercury stored for thousands of years in permafrost or promoting chemical processes that transform mercury into a more toxic form.

“It is of particular concern that mercury levels are continuing to rise in some Arctic species in large areas of the Arctic,’’ despite emissions reductions in nearby regions like Europe, North America, and Russia, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, or AMAP, said.

Emissions have increased in other parts of the world, primarily in China, which is now the number one mercury polluter, accounting for nearly half of total emissions, AMAP said.

Its report, “Arctic Pollution 2011,’’ was scheduled for release today at a scientific conference in Copenhagen.

Another report released earlier this week at the meeting of nearly 400 scientists showed melting ice in the Arctic could help raise global sea levels by as much as 5 feet this century, much higher than earlier projections.

Both assessments will be given to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the foreign ministers of Russia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.

Polar bears, beluga whales, and seals are among the species that have shown heightened levels of mercury in parts of Arctic Canada and Greenland, the pollution report said. Meanwhile, mercury levels have dropped in other animals in the high north of Europe.