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U.S. Source of Pollution in Canada's Arctc

The polluters who are poisoning the Inuit Exposed

Industrial plants in the US have been fingered as the main polluters of Nunavut, thousands of kilometres away in the Canadian Arctic. A report on cross-border pollution identifies an incinerator in Iowa as the single biggest source of dioxin pollution in this remote Arctic area.

The report, released by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an intergovernmental organization set up by Canada, the US and Mexico, is the first attempt to pin down the precise sources of the dioxin. Researchers say that the three countries can now use the findings to clamp down on polluters.

The remote, sparsely populated Nunavut territory has virtually no sources of dioxin, which is a by-product of many industrial processes. But some Inuits native to the area have twice as much dioxin in their blood as people in southern Canada. Their diet of marine and game animals is high in fat, where dioxin tends to concentrate.

According to the report, 35 per cent of the total dioxin deposited on Nunavut in one year came from just 10 sources, all but one of them in the US. These sources included municipal waste incinerators, cement kilns, copper smelting and iron sintering plants. Sources in the US caused between 70 and 82 per cent of the dioxin pollution, Canada accounted for 11 to 25 per cent and Mexico for 5 to 11 per cent.

"There is no way to protect Nunavut from airborne dioxin. You have to bring about the reduction at the source," says report co-author Barry Commoner of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at the City University of New York. "But with 44,000 sources, where do you start?"

To find out where the dioxin comes from, Commoner and his colleagues used a computer model called HYSPLIT, originally developed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to track accidental radiation releases. To trace the path of a pollutant, researchers tell HYSPLIT where and when it was released. The program then tracks its path through known North American weather patterns.

Commoner used HYSPLIT to follow how dioxin emissions from 44,000 separate sources could have been carried to eight different areas in Nunavut between July 1996 and June 1997.

Commoner admits the predictions aren't perfect. The dioxin emissions had to be estimated using data from government environmental organizations. But Paul Miller, head of the commission, says that governments should now be able to approach the worst polluters and ask them to measure, and control, how much dioxin they are releasing.

Information for this story obtained from New Scientist