1 April 2003
in NW full of toxic particles
Scientists suspect pollutants from warmer regions
B.C. -- Ah, the top of the world -- the high mountains of British
Columbia, far from civilization, pure as the driven snow. Where
else could a person get farther from the poisons of modern living,
according to what Environment Canada scientist Pat Shaw told researchers
weather systems that sweep in from the Pacific each winter and spring
appear to be carrying pesticides and other chemicals long ago banned
in the United States and Canada but still used overseas, say Shaw
and other scientists attending a conference on the health of Puget
Sound and its Canadian counterpart, the Georgia Strait.
Shaw went looking for pollutants in the fish of British Columbia,
one of the sites he chose was so far up in remote mountainous country
that he had to fly in the measuring equipment. Yet glacier-fed Garibaldi
Lake showed some of the highest contamination levels.
are under way to show whether the same thing is happening in Washington
and elsewhere across the American West. Scientists are pretty sure
the story is the same on the other side of the border.
the Canadian study, Shaw expected to find contamination in lakes
near heavily urbanized Vancouver, and wasn't surprised to find high
levels in a lake near a Vancouver Island military base.
real shocker was the level in Garibaldi Lake," he said.
doesn't seem to be a case of isolated dumping, either.
equally remote lake, inside the same provincial park as Garibaldi,
showed similar results.
contaminants are polychlorinated biphenyls, fire-retardant chemicals
that were banned in the United States in the late 1970s; polybrominated
diphenyl ethers, which are still used as fire retardants and are
increasing rapidly in Canadian and U.S. women's breast milk; and
pesticides including toxaphene, which also was banned in the United
States in the '70s.
and other scientists believe chemicals used in warm regions, such
as India, are vaporized by the hot temperatures there. They escape
into the atmosphere, then are pushed in their gaseous form for thousands
a weather front reaches the Pacific Northwest, the clouds are cooled
as they move into higher latitudes. They cool most where large sheets
of ice in glaciers lie sprawled across mountainsides.
cooled enough, those clouds drop snow. Attached to the snow are
the once-gaseous pollutants, now solidified and clinging to the
is popping up all over the place," Shaw said.
levels at Garibaldi and Cheakanus lakes were particularly high.
likely that some of the pollutants are making their way into Puget
Sound and Georgia Strait, Shaw said.
talk came on the first day of the 2003 Georgia Basin/Puget Sound
Research Conference, which is expected to attract nearly 800 scientists,
government officials, environmentalists and others.
conference is sponsored by Washington state government's Puget Sound
Water Quality Action Team about every two years. This is the first
one co-sponsored by the Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative, a network
of Canadian government agencies. The agencies hope to encourage
more collaboration among Canadian and U.S. researchers.
one of the scientists who first alerted the world to the cross-continental
transport of pollutants is scheduled to outline how she is beginning
to look in Washington and elsewhere around the Western United States
for wind-borne pollutants from Asia and Europe.
a global basis, you end up with higher concentrations in the Arctic,
and on a regional basis you find higher concentrations at higher
elevations," said Staci Simonich, an Oregon State University
the future promises to unleash even more pollution, she said.
we have global warming and glacier melt, you have the potential
to release more of these stored pollutants into ecosystems,"