Arctic Natives, Minding Own Business, Suffer From Our Pollutants

Toxic industrial chemicals, carried north by wind, ocean, and river currents, are polluting the traditional diet of native Arctic peoples in Greenland and Arctic Canada. The pollutants, including PCBs and up to 200 other hazardous compounds, are first consumed by zooplankton, then travel up the food chain to the ocean-dwelling mammals — whales, seals, and walruses — hunted by Arctic natives according to centuries-old traditions. At this point, concentrations of chemicals and pesticides in the bodies of Greenland’s Inuit are so high that their tissues can be classified as hazardous waste. Their breast milk is contaminated as well, leading to widespread immune-system and neurological problems among their children. Public health officials are torn about what advice to offer, since — absent our toxic crap — the native diet is quite healthy, and regardless, there is no infrastructure to support importing large amounts of (less healthy) Western foods. Arctic native culture is built around hunting, so a change in diet would also have substantial implications for their cultural survival.