Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
1 April 2003

Lakes in NW full of toxic particles
Scientists suspect pollutants from warmer regions

VANCOUVER, 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, right?

Not according to what Environment Canada scientist Pat Shaw told researchers here yesterday.

The 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.

When 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.

Studies 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.

In 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.

"The real shocker was the level in Garibaldi Lake," he said.

It doesn't seem to be a case of isolated dumping, either.

Another equally remote lake, inside the same provincial park as Garibaldi, showed similar results.

The 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.

Shaw 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 of miles.

When 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.

Once cooled enough, those clouds drop snow. Attached to the snow are the once-gaseous pollutants, now solidified and clinging to the snow crystals.

"Toxaphene is popping up all over the place," Shaw said.

The levels at Garibaldi and Cheakanus lakes were particularly high.

It's likely that some of the pollutants are making their way into Puget Sound and Georgia Strait, Shaw said.

His 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.

The 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.

Today, 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.

"On 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 environmental chemist.

And the future promises to unleash even more pollution, she said.

"As we have global warming and glacier melt, you have the potential to release more of these stored pollutants into ecosystems," she said.

 
     
     

 

 

 

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