Spatial and temporal trends of contaminants in Canadian Arctic freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems: a review Academic Article uri icon

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  • The state of knowledge of contaminants in Canadian Arctic biota of the freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems has advanced enormously since the publication of the first major reviews by Lockhart et al. and Thomas et al. in The Science of the Total Environment in 1992. The most significant gains are new knowledge of spatial trends of organochlorines and heavy metal contaminants in terrestrial animals, such as caribou and mink, and in waterfowl, where no information was previously available. Spatial trends in freshwater fish have been broadened, especially in the Yukon, where contaminant measurements of, for example, organochlorines were previously non-existent. A review of contaminants data for fish from the Northwest Territories, Yukon and northern Quebec showed mercury as the one contaminant which consistently exceeds guideline limits for subsistence consumption or commercial sale. Lake trout and northern pike in the Canadian Shield lakes of the Northwest Territories and northern Quebec generally had the most elevated levels. Levels of other heavy metals were generally not elevated in fish. Toxaphene was the major organochlorine contaminant in all fish analyzed. The concentrations of organochlorine contaminants in fish appear to be a function not only of trophic level but of other aspects of the lake ecosystem. Among Arctic terrestrial mammals, PCBs and cadmium were the most prominent contaminants in the species analyzed. Relatively high levels (10-60 micrograms g-1) of cadmium were observed in kidney and liver of caribou from the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and northern Quebec, with concentrations in western herds being higher than in those from the east. For the organochlorine contaminants, a west to east increase in zigma PCBs, HCB and zigma HCH was found in caribou, probably as a result of the predominant west to east/north-east atmospheric circulation pattern which delivers these contaminants from industrialized regions of central and eastern North America to the Arctic via long-range atmospheric transport. Radiocesium contamination of lichens and caribou has continued to decrease. Significant contamination by PCBs and lead of soils and vascular plants was observed in the immediate vicinity and within a 20-km radius of DEW line sites in the Canadian Arctic. There was also evidence for transfer of PCBs from plants to lemmings. There was no evidence, however, that large mammals such as caribou living in the general area of the DEW line sites had elevated levels of PCBs. There is very limited temporal trend information for most contaminants in biota of Arctic terrestrial and freshwater environments.


  • Braune, B
  • Muir, D
  • DeMarch, B
  • Gamberg, M
  • Poole, K
  • Currie, R
  • Dodd, M
  • Duschenko, W
  • Eamer, J
  • Elkin, B
  • Evans, M
  • Grundy, S
  • Hebert, C
  • Johnstone, R
  • Kidd, Karen
  • Koenig, B
  • Lockhart, L
  • Marshall, H
  • Reimer, K
  • Sanderson, J
  • Shutt, L

publication date

  • June 1999