An assessment by a scientific body set up by the eight Arctic rim countries has projected that global mercury emissions could grow by 25% by 2020 if no action is taken to control such emissions, posing a threat to polar bears, whales, and seals and the Arctic communities who hunt those animals for food. The assessment also warns that 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 (methylmercury [see http://toxics.usgs.gov/definitions/methylmercury.html]).
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 researchers report. They note that 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. Emissions have increased in other parts of the world, primarily in China, which is now the No. 1 mercury polluter, accounting for nearly half of total emissions, the researchers noted. [Information on human activities that cause mercury emissions can be found at http://www.epa.gov/hg/control_emissions/global.htm.]
Information regarding the study and its conclusions can be found at http://www.amap.no/. The report can be downloaded from the "assessment results" portion of the web site.