Research scientist Derek Muir has spent decades researching and measuring contaminants in Arctic animals. (Facebook/Derek Muir)

Scientist awarded $100K for work on Arctic contaminants that led to ban

Derek Muir has received the $100,000 Weston Family Prize for his research that showed those carcinogens were able to move into the Arctic.

An Environment Canada scientist whose work on contaminants in the Arctic environment helped lead to global controls on toxic chemicals is getting an award.

Derek Muir has received the $100,000 Weston Family Prize for research that led to groundbreaking international restrictions on persistent organic pollutants. His findings showed those carcinogens were able to move into the Arctic and concentrate in the bodies of animals and people.

“It makes me feel that the science we were doing was very worthwhile,” Muir said. “It’s motivation to keep going with more chemical measurements in the Arctic, because the Arctic is a sentinel area.”

At one time, Canada’s Inuit carried some of the highest PCB levels in the world, up to 10 times the levels found in southern Canada. The chemical was even found in the breast milk of Inuit mothers.

A 2003 study found subtle but statistically significant nervous system and behavioural changes, possibly linked to PCBs, in Inuit babies.

The following year, at least partly due to the work of Muir and his colleagues, the Stockholm Convention came into effect. It limited or banned the use of a number of chemicals, including notorious poisons such as DDT.

By 2008, PCB levels in beluga, narwhal, walrus and ringed seal had fallen by an average of 43 per cent. Although it varied in different parts of the Arctic, the amount of the chemical Inuvialuit or Inuit people were exposed to dropped an average of 20 per cent over the previous decade.

Read more: Canadian physicist collects Nobel Prize

Read more: Canadian scientist names new beetle Jose Bautista

There are now 182 countries that have signed the convention, which regulates 27 chemicals.

So-called “legacy contaminants” remain top predators in the North. But now, Muir said, a new generation of chemicals is coming into play.

“We’re seeing new contaminants which we know are being used in consumer products and buildings and all sorts of … urban areas, and we see them appearing in the North.”

They include stain repellents, flame retardants and pharmaceuticals. A recent paper documented about 150 such compounds.

Muir said information on how the chemicals move and what effects they have on their own and in combination is needed.

Agreements such as the Stockholm Convention show the world can come together to address environmental problems, he said.

“The scientists were able to put results in the hands of people who were really motivated to take a managerial leap.”

Muir’s award was announced Wednesday, the day after an American science agency delivered another gloomy report card on the impact of climate change on the Arctic.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has concluded surface air temperatures in the Arctic continue to warm twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Air temperatures for the last five years have exceeded all previous records since 1900.

More Stockholm Conventions are needed, Muir said.

“We have better instrumental capacity and better knowledge than we had in the 1980s when I was starting. We’re in a much better position,” he said. “But I guess science needs to be translated more into action.”

Muir credited the Weston Foundation with funding much of the research that goes on today in the Canadian Arctic.

“They’ve really had an impact on northern science.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cullen confirmed as B.C. NDP candidate for Stikine despite party’s equity policy

Former Tahltan Central Government President Annita McPhee said the process made her feel “abused”

Citing stability, B.C. Premier calls snap election for Oct. 24

John Horgan meets with Lieutenant Governor to request vote

Routine medical check for adult canadians; what you need to know

Preventive Medicine is a proactive method of health care delivery. Its’ aim… Continue reading

Grant to provide solar panel to coho hatchery

And work on expansion is proceeding

Pandemic derails CP Holiday Train

Canadian Pacific will work to get donations to food banks while also producing an online music concert

Vanderhoof’s Brian Frenkel takes on top job in tough times

We can get through this, new local government leader says

Local councils important, Horgan says as municipal conference ends

B.C. NDP leader says ‘speed dating’ vital, online or in person

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Penticton woman sentenced to one year in prison for manslaughter of teen boyfriend

Kiera Bourque, 24, was sentenced for manslaughter in the 2017 death of Penticton’s Devon Blackmore

B.C. Green leader says NDP abandoning environmental plan

Horgan’s claim of unstable government false, Furstenau says

Transgender B.C. brothers debut fantasy novel as author duo Vincent Hunter

‘Transgender people are being misrepresented in popular fiction and media, and we aim to change that’

‘Won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving:’ Trudeau says COVID-19 2nd wave underway

In all, COVID-19 has killed about 9,250 people in Canada

Most Read