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Atmospheric Mercury and Persistent Organic Pollutants in the Arctic – A Growing Problem in the Canadian North


Photo: Air quality measurement station at Little Fox Lake, Yukon (building on the right) | © Environment Canada, Alexandra SteffenLong-range transport of mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from industrial products and byproducts, including pesticides, is a growing problem in the Canadian North. These pollutants are deposited in bodies of water, ice, snow, and tundra affecting the Northern ecosystems and human health. Researching and measuring the transportation patterns and transformation of these pollutants significantly contributes to scientific understanding of their impacts on the Arctic.

As part of their work transferring Environment Canada’s scientific knowledge on mercury and POPs in the Arctic to academics and the general public, atmospheric research scientists Hayley Hung and Alexandra (Sandy) Steffen conducted a recent open seminar at Yukon College, Whitehorse. The seminar was given upon the invitation of the Yukon Research Centre which partners with Environment Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada in the operation of the Little Fox Lake monitoring station where mercury and POP measurements are conducted.  The lecture was covered by CBC North Television, Yukon community radio, and the Yukon News. 

This session offered an opportunity for the scientists to meet the Director and staff of the Cold Climate Innovation and Technology Innovation Programs to discuss a potential partnership in developing a passive mercury air sampler suitable for use in remote Arctic environments for future community-based and ecosystem studies. They also discussed the use of the Little Fox Lake station as a combined monitoring, research, and educational station for undergraduate and high school students in the Yukon.

Understanding the impacts of these contaminants is a priority of the Northern Contaminants Program, the Chemicals Management Plan, the Mercury Risk Management Strategy for Canada, the Environment Canada led Federal Integrated Northern Science and Technology Strategy, as well as the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program and United Nations Environment Programme negotiations for a legally-binding global agreement for mercury.

Contact: Dr. Hayley Hung, 416-739-5944; Alexandra (Sandy) Steffen, 416-739-4116 | Air Quality Research

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