June 15, 2006

Chemicals harming Arctic animals: WWF

GENEVA (Reuters) - Toxic chemicals are harming Arctic
animals including polar bears, beluga whales, seals and
seabirds, the environmental group WWF said on Thursday.

It said pollutants such as flame retardants, pesticides and
fluorinated chemicals made Arctic wildlife vulnerable to health
problems including immune suppression and hormone disturbances.

"We can no longer ignore the proof that chemicals are
damaging the health of wild animals," said Samantha Smith,
director of the Swiss-based group's international arctic

The WWF, formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund, said
the chemical contamination of the Arctic threatened the
survival of many of the region's animal species, who also faced
possible habitat and food supply loss due to climate change.

It appealed for "urgent and significant strengthening" of
European Union legislation designed to protect people and the
environment from the adverse effects of chemicals found in
products like paint, detergents, cars and computers.

The bill, known by the acronym REACH, has drawn criticism
from the United States and other countries who say its
provisions could hurt trade and be hard to implement.

Among health effects, the WWF said the immune systems of
polar bears had been disrupted and there were signs of weaker
bone growth. Bears in the Barents Sea with high levels of toxic
PCBs suffered disruptions to thyroid hormones.

"The bodies of some belugas from the St. Lawrence estuary
in Canada are so contaminated that their carcasses are treated
as toxic waste," it said, adding that chemicals such as flame
retardants were compounding problems caused by older

The WWF said its report focused on documented health
problems in Arctic creatures, building on a report in February
highlighting the high levels of pollutants in the Arctic.

The Arctic is far from industrial centers but many
long-lasting chemicals get swept north by winds and ocean
currents and build to damaging levels in fatty tissues of
creatures in the region.