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Acta Paediatr. 2003 Nov;92(11):1255-66.

The importance of diet on exposure to and effects of persistent organic pollutants on human health in the Arctic.

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Institute of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø, Norway.



To describe the importance of diet on exposure to and possible health effects of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the Arctic.


The study is based on a literature review.


Minor decreases in POPs and minor increases in Hg levels in Arctic populations in Greenland, Eastern Russia, Western Alaska and Eastern Canada are likely to occur by the year 2010 and major decreases in both POPs and Hg levels in these same populations by 2030. Levels of POPs and metals in populations in the Faeroe Islands and the Scandinavian countries are already reasonably low and are only likely to decline marginally by 2030. Estimating the effects on the basis of current knowledge is difficult, but the combination of improved methodology and selection of risk groups will be a progressive step in the process. Any strategies based on traditional food substitution should ensure that the value of the dietary components is sustained.


To improve our understanding of the health effects associated with exposure to contaminants in the Arctic, we recommend that circumpolar epidemiological studies should be implemented on a larger scale. MeHg- and POPs-related effects are still the key issues. However, the role of newly discovered contaminants, such as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) and PCNs (polychlorinated naphthalenes), should be investigated. For exposure assessment, mixtures and nutritional interactions should be considered in epidemiological studies. Epidemiological studies on nutritional benefits of traditional foods should be incorporated in risk-assessment profiles. We need a more nuanced view on human dietary exposure to xenobiotics. Risk should not be evaluated alone, but seen in relation to benefits from specific diets. It is essential that countries ratify and implement multinational environmental agreements.

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