NILU - The Norwegian Institute for Air Research

Persistent organic pollutants in the Arctic


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Persistent organic pollutants (POP) have been subject to research at NILU for a long time. These substances are toxic and are of anthropogenic origin, they accumulate in the environment, and they move through the environment so that after a discharge their traces including transformation products can be found in far-away places in air, water, soil and biological materials.

NILU has significantly contributed to the realisation of the newly published AMAP Assessment 2002: “Persistent Organic Pollutants in the Arctic”. Two major highlights demonstrated NILUs contribution to the report, which can be ordered directly from the AMAP secretariat (

POPs in Bjørnøya

Studies of air and fog water measurements at Bjørnøya in 1994 identified very high levels of PCBs in Arctic char and sediments. The samples were taken from the lake Ellasjøen on Bjørnøya (Bear Island, 74°N, 19°E), situated about 500 km southwest of Svalbard. The results prompted a comprehensive research study, which was started in 1999.

(See Atmospheric Long-Range Transport of Pollutants as Indicator Process)

Persistent organic pollutants in the Arctic
The studies included investigation of the influence of atmospheric long-range transport on POPs in the Ellasjøen area based on measurement in ambient air, snow, and fog water. Fog water was included based on information provided by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute that, on average, fog events were occurring more than 30% of the time in summer.
Persistent organic pollutants in the Arctic
It also supported to assess fog as medium for transport and deposition pathways at Bjørnøya. The high levels of medium chlorinated PCB and alfa-HCH in the Bjørnøya fog support the influence of possible biological sources such as seabird guano.

Trends in Arctic hexachlorocyclohexanse (alpha-HCH and gamma-HCH) levels

A critical component of the assessment of POPs in the Arctic is the knowledge of temporal trends of these chemicals in the abiotic and biotic environment. The relationship between contaminant input into the Arctic and the levels and effects seen in wildlife and humans is ultimately tied to the use and restriction of these chemicals and any remedial action that is taken.

Persistent organic pollutants in the Arctic
It is, therefore, important to know if POPs are decreasing or increasing in the Arctic, and whether this varies throughout the Arctic and between various media. Temporal trend analyses may provide a tool to assess remedial actions.

Gamma-HCH concentrations represents about 15-20% of the total alpha- and gamma-HCH burden. The general decrease in concentrations are not so evident as for alfa-HCH. At Ny Ålesund the levels in 1998-2000 were about half of that measured in 1993-94 (see figure below).

The complete report can be downloaded from the AMAP home page ( or directly ordered from the AMAP secretariat in Oslo.

Persistent organic pollutants in the Arctic

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