Excerpt from Our Stolen Future
by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
(Reprinted with Permission)
Chapter 6: To the Ends of the Earth
High above the Arctic Circle, the polar bears of Norway's Svalbard archipelago inhabit some of the most remote and seemingly pristine territory on earth. Yet scientists have discovered that these bears are highly contaminated with industrial chemicals, including PCBs, the pesticide DDT and several other synthetic compounds that are known to disrupt reproduction in wildlife. Fat samples taken from tranquilized bears carry as much as ninety part per million of PCBs - an infinitesimal amount by normal measures, but biologically a potent dose.
Researchers studying declining seal populations have found that seventy parts per million of PCBs in fat is enough to cause serious problems for females, including suppressed immune systems and deformities of the uterus. But those seals were living in bays where industrial waste has poured in for decades. Svalbard, on the other hand, lies at the end of the Earth, hundreds of miles from cities, chemical factories, and dump sites.
Where was this stuff coming from, and how was it getting into bears roaming the Arctic wilderness?
The story of PCBs and how they have spread throughout the planet and into the body fat of almost every living creature is one of the most fascinating and instructive chapters in the history of the synthetic chemicals era. Of the fifty-one synthetic chemicals that have now been identified as hormone disruptors, at least half, including PCBs, are "persistent" in that they resist natural processes of decay that render them harmless. These long-lived chemicals will be a legacy and a continuing hazard to the unborn for years, decades, or in the case of some PCBs, several centuries.
Introduced in 1929, PCBs became the first big commercial success for a new elite of chemists who would eventually synthesize tens of thousands of novel chemicals that exist nowhere in nature. In early assessments, PCBs seemed to have many virtues and no obvious faults. They are nonflammable and extremely stable. Toxicity tests at the time did not identify any hazardous effects. With the issuance of federal regulations requiring the use of nonflammable cooling compounds in transformers used inside buildings, PCBs quickly found a steady major market in the electrical industry. Other industries put PCBs to use as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, and liquid seals. In turn, these chemicals found their way into a host of consumer products and thus into the home. They made wood and plastics nonflammable. They preserved and protected rubber. They made stucco weatherproof. They became ingredients in paints, varnishes, inks, and pesticides.
Although some evidence of toxic effects in workers began emerging as early as 1936, PCBs were on the market for three decades before serious questions surfaced publicly about this wonder chemical. By 1966, scientists had identified PCBs as the mysterious pollutant that repeatedly turned up in wildlife specimens and in human hair and blood samples in Sweden. Soon, other scientists were finding PCBs everywhere - in soil, air, water; in the mud of lakes, rivers, and estuaries; in the ocean; in fish, birds, and other animals.
Ten years later, in 1976, the United States banned the manufacture of PCBs, and other industrial countries eventually followed. In half a century of production, however, the synthetic chemical industry worldwide (excluding the USSR) had produced an estimated 3.4 billion pounds of PCBs, and much of it was already loose in the environment and beyond recall. Moreover, the ban did not address existing PCBs, allowing their use to continue in closed applications- such as transistors, electric ballasts, and small appliances -- even today.
There is no way to discover exactly how the PCBs in the polar bears made their way to the Svalbard archipelago or where they came from. But research over the past two decades has given scientists a good understanding of how PCBs travel through ecosystems and migrate over long distances. Based on this knowledge, it is possible to imagine the journey of an individual PCB molecule. Though the specific route and events in the journey we are about to describe are hypothetical, the plot is a plausible scenario built from historical accounts and a myriad of scientific studies.
1. Our imaginary PCB molecule - a chemical known among scientists as PCB-153 because of the arrangement of its chlorine atoms - set off on its global wanderings just after World War II. The Monsanto Chemical Works plant in Anniston, Alabama produced this first batch of PCB-153 in 1947, by heating iron filings with a chlorine chemical called biphenyl. Monsanto often sold the compound - which contained not only PCB- 153 but dozens of other members of the large PCB family-under its brand name Aroclor- 1254.
PCB-153 is among the most long-lived industrial chemicals. Almost half a century later, the PCBs made on that spring day might be found virtually anywhere imaginable: in the sperm of a man tested at a fertility clinic in upstate New York, in a wheel of ripe brie cheese, in the fat of a newborn baby in Michigan, in penguins in Antarctica, in the milk of a nursing mother in France, in the Arctic polar bear. Like most persistent synthetic chemicals, PCBs are world travelers.
2. Our imaginary molecule might have made its first trip by train. A few weeks after manufacture, a freight train carrying a shipment of Aroclor-1254 rumbled over the rails in New York State headed for a plant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts where General Electric manufactured electrical transformers. These ubiquitous metal cans attached to electrical poles reduce high-voltage current from transmission lines into the lower voltage required by lights and appliances. Because PCBs did not catch fire and burn, they offered a safer alternative to the flammable oil previously used in transformers. GE blended Aroclor into its own custom formula called Pyranol.
While it would be very difficult to retrace the precise sequence of events that led to the escape of our PCB molecule into the environment, we can reconstruct what might have taken place based upon interviews with a former plant employee and public records. That summer the production line in Pittsfield was working at full tilt, and the Pyranol in the factory storage tanks did not sit around for long. On a steamy day in June, a worker reached for a hose at his workstation that was connected through underground pipes to storage tanks. After making a final check on the transformer he had been finishing, he opened the valve and filled it to the top with Pyranol. In a few days, our molecule of PCB-153, sealed tightly inside that new transformer, was heading back south by train.
3. The shipment of transformers from GE arrived at an oil refinery in Big Spring, Texas in July. Within a week, the distribution transformer containing our molecule of PCB-153 was installed in a building that housed the refinery control room. Not even a month had passed before a fierce August thunderstorm tore through Big Spring, filling the air with exploding thunder and lightning that struck at several places during the short, violent storm, including the power lines supplying the refinery. As the power surge hit the transformer near the control room, it responded with a metallic thump and the building went dark.
The following morning, the refinery's maintenance supervisor lifted the cover of the transformer to inspect the damage. Seeing twisted, crumbled coils, he decided that the unit was beyond repair, so he asked one of his men to empty the unit and send it off to the dump. The maintenance worker complied, hauling the transformer to the parking lot. As he tilted the transformer, its oily contents oozed out onto the red dirt of the parking lot, and PCB-153 slipped into the greasy puddle. The worker reckoned the oil might help keep down the insufferable dust. Since PCBs have an affinity for organic matter, the molecule quickly attached itself to a dust particle. But with the roaring winds of west Texas, dust never stays put long.
4. Four months later, a winter storm roared through and swept the molecule aloft. Stampeding curtains of dust drove toward the town of Tarzan, where they beat against barns and houses as the winds howled. The dust particle with PCB-153 rode the whirlwind. The wild ride ended when the dust particle sifted through the fine cracks around a doorsill and settled in a drift on the kitchen floor.
When the windstorm passed, the woman of the house surveyed her kitchen with a sigh. The fine red dust coated the windowsills and lay two inches deep before the door. With a weary efficiency, she took up her corn-straw broom and whisked the dust particle with our itinerant molecule into a dustpan. As it fell into the wastebasket, the dust particle sifted down into a crumpled, grease-stained newspaper page that the housewife had used to drain her bacon that morning.
5. By the end of the week, PCB-153 was buried under trash in a local dump, an informal affair in a ravine with a parched creek. Despite the rivulets that flowed down through the growing mountain of trash during summer thunderstorms, the molecule stayed put for more than two years, for unlike, many chemicals, PCBs don't dissolve readily in water.
The late winter of 1948 brought a spell of heavy rains to west Texas. After intermittent downpours, the creek surged to life in the beginning of March and roared toward the trash that tumbled down the side of the ravine. The roiling waters took a bite out of one edge of the trash mound, sweeping the greasy newspaper and the molecule from the transformer spill downstream. The floodwaters subsided the following morning, leaving the soggy newspaper sheet stranded on a sandbar five miles away. PCB-153 was clinging to a greasy blotch on the page, shielded from the light but exposed to warm spring air.
6. As the sun climbed higher and winter turned to spring, the lump of paper dried and slowly warmed. With the sun beating down on the paper in early April, PCBs suddenly began disengaging from the dust particle moving upward, floating into the air as a vapor. The PCB-153 was suddenly free. The journey that would end in the rump fat of a Norwegian polar bear had begun.
The molecule caught a warm gentle breeze from the southwest, wafting north and east over the shrub-covered expanse of east Texas toward the pine forests of Arkansas. As the breeze stiffened, it sailed on unimpeded into Missouri. A rising current of spring air pushed it higher into the atmosphere, and the molecule soared upward, higher and higher on the thermal. When the air mass collided with a cold front moving down from the north, the journey ended abruptly. The clouds released their moisture in a hard, cold rain, and PCB-153 washed back to earth and landed on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River north of St. Louis.
7. During three weeks of cloudy weather, the molecule clung to a rotting leaf on a rocky outcropping, but as soon as the sun reemerged and the temperature climbed, the molecule floated off again. It lingered over St. Louis for several days and sloshed about in a stagnant air mass. Then, as a Bermuda high developed off the southern Atlantic coast, a torrent of air rushed through from the south and swept the PCB molecule northward toward the Great Lakes.
The airflow pushed north with the speed of a freight train. The molecule tumbled onward in a great white bank of cumulus clouds. But as the warm winds rushed through Chicago, they met a wall of cooler air rising from the still chilly waters of Lake Michigan. At nightfall, the PCB-153 suddenly condensed back into a liquid state for the first time since it had left Missouri and our molecule settled on the dark water near the lakeshore city of Racine, Wisconsin.
Like all PCBs, the molecule had a predilection for surfaces, so it lingered on the boundary between the air and water, bumping now and again into other wandering chemical molecules. Our PBC-153 molecule found it hard, however, to remain unattached for long. Its strong attraction to organic matter drew it to a patch of algae. Weeks later, the tiny, footless alga, with PCB-153 attached, yellowed and sank. The dead alga was quickly covered by soil washing into the lake, and with each passing year, accumulating sediment buried the molecule ever deeper. Our molecule's chances of getting back into circulation seemed to grow slimmer. PCB-153 might be impervious to the attack of the bacteria that broke down many chemicals, but it could be entombed.
8. As work crews began construction of a new waterfront park for Racine in 1954, dump trucks laden with huge chunks of rock moved back and forth in a grumbling caravan to the water's edge. Load after load of stones tumbled, into water. On a spring day in 1956, a monstrous rock came hurtling down into the stretch of sediment where the PCB-153 lay buried. As the shock rippled through the buried mud, the molecule sprang free in a burst of hydrogen sulfide gas that filled the water with bubbles. The molecule rode one of the tiny glistening spheres upward toward the light and air.
Within hours, the PCB-153 was lodged in the fat of a water flea that had gobbled it up while grazing along the surface. This was a fat-loving molecule's dream, a ticket to ride, and it would take PCB-153 to the top of the food chain. The water flea acted like a filter, sifting tiny plants and the PCBs clinging to them out of the water while it fed, so as the days passed more and more PCBs accumulated in the body fat of the tiny animal. Less persistent contaminants do not build up in this way because animals can break them down into water-soluble substances and excrete them. Many PCBs, on the other hand, resist breakdown, and once ingested, they are drawn by their chemical structure to the animal's fat, where they remain indefinitely. Over its short ten-day life, the flea's PCB concentrations grew to four hundred times the levels in the water. When it was finally eaten by a small shrimp called a mysid, the water flea passed on this legacy of fat-loving persistent chemicals to its predator, and the PCB-153 moved a rung higher on the Lake Michigan food web.
9. During its life, the mysid would eat hundreds of water fleas and inherit a bundle of persistent chemicals with each bite. The mysid eventually became a meal for a smelt- a small, tasty fish that darts about in offshore waters in flashing silver schools. As the smelt gorged on mysids and other smaller critters, the persistent chemical concentrations multiplied seventeen more times.
The PCBs riding in its fat, found themselves in growing company that included not only their own chemical family but other persistent compounds as well, such as DDT and toxaphene, a pesticide used heavily then in cotton fields in the south. For a time, agricultural specialists thought toxaphene was an improvement over DDT because it disappeared quickly from the fields where it was sprayed. It was some time before anybody realized that it did not disappear at all; it vaporized and moved on. Much of it came sailing on the winds to the Great Lakes.
10. The smelt containing our PCB-153 molecule cruised Lake Michigan for two years before it was ambushed by a lake trout. Now the molecule moved to the trout and rested in its fat for another five years until an angler hooked the trophy-size fish on the last day of vacation at a family cottage in Door County, Wisconsin.
Smelt were a particular favorite with the families that crowded into local eateries in Racine for the Friday-night fish fry, and over time, their body fat would also bear witness to the nights when they had popped down dozens of the succulent little fish with a side order of potato pancakes or dined grandly on lake trout or coho salmon.
11. The following morning, the trout, packed on ice in a cooler in the back of a station wagon, was heading eastward on the interstate toward upstate New York. The molecule was moving into new territory on this imaginary journey. The fisherman could hardly wait to get home and show off the catch of a lifetime to fishing buddies. His mouth watered at the thought of a truly memorable fish dinner. Three days later, however, the fish ended up in the family's trash barrel rather than on a platter at the dinner table. At the height of an August heat wave, the station wagon had broken down, leaving the family stranded in rural Michigan without ice for the cooler. When the family reached home and opened the cooler, the fish smelled like old cat food.
A blizzard of gulls swirled around the trash collection truck when it arrived at a landfill outside Rochester. As the rank fish carrying the molecule tumbled onto the growing trash mountain, the gulls dove at it, squawking and jostling each other to grab a bite. In a matter of minutes, they had picked the carcass clean. PCB-153 wound up in the fat of a female gull, which had spent more than a dozen years feeding on the fish in Lake Ontario, so the molecule simply added to her already substantial store of contaminants. In the Great Lakes food chain, the herring gulls occupy a spot just below the bald eagles, which sometimes nab a herring gull or two. By the time PCBs have moved this high on the food chain, the concentrations have multiplied to 25 million times the levels found in the water.
12. In springtime, the female herring gull headed for Scotch Bonnet Island, on the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario. The gull and her mate chose a protected patch of sand in the middle of the gull colony, and soon, the female had laid two large lightly speckled eggs that she dutifully set about incubating. A tiny beak broke through one shell six weeks later, but the chick could only muster feeble pecks. It died, seemingly from exhaustion. The other egg showed no signs of life at all. The mother finally abandoned the nest without fledging a single offspring.
PCB-153 and its relatives had passed from the mother gull into the yolk of the lifeless egg and had contributed to its death, along, with DDT, dioxin, and other contaminants. A skunk carted off the rotting egg five days later but then thought better of eating it and dropped it on a rock near the shore, where it smashed. Some of the yolk spattered into the water, and PCB-153 was off on another trip up the food chain, this time via a crayfish-a small bottom-feeding scavenger that vacuumed up the bits of fatty yolk sloshing in the shallows near shore. Before long, the crayfish that had dined on the egg yolk became dinner for one of the American eels that hunted at night in the weedy shallows.
13. With the approach of summer, the oldest eels in Lake Ontario, including the sixteen-year-old animal carrying the PCB-13 molecule, began to undergo changes that signal sexual maturity and preparation for the three-thousand-mile journey to their spawning ground. American eels frequent freshwater rivers and lakes most of their lives before finally making a long pilgrimage out to the Sargasso Sea - an area in the Atlantic Ocean between the West Indies and the Azores- where they spawn before dying.
Restless with the migratory urge, the eel carrying PCB-153 moved with a group of silver eels out the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. The eel swam onward for more than six months before finally reaching the floating rafts of Sargasso seaweed that give this region of warm, salty waters its name. There beneath the clear tropical waters east of the Bahamas and south of Bermuda, a roiling congregation of eels spawned and then expired from exhaustion.
14. The eel's flesh disintegrated quickly in the warm tropical waters, and PCB-153 sloughed off in a shred of fat that floated up to the surface of the Sargasso Sea under the intense tropical sun. In the heat, the molecule suddenly vaporized once more and, carried on prevailing winds, began hop scotching north. At any cold spot it encountered, the molecule condensed and settled on any available surface, only to be off again as soon as the summer sun warmed the surface.
Alternating between liquid and gas, it rode the winds farther and farther north. The waters grew colder, making it increasingly difficult for the molecule to become airborne. Instead it hitchhiked on one of the small floating plants at the bottom of the North Atlantic food web, sweeping into the Gulf Stream and from then on north and east toward Iceland.
15. Two hundred miles east of Iceland, a small shrimp like creature called a copepod finally nabbed the plant and PCB-153 as it filtered a meal out of the rich waters of the North Atlantic. Five days later, a cloud of copepods was swept into a swift current that carried them north and east like a giant conveyer belt toward the edge of the solid pack ice in the Greenland Sea. There, a large school of Arctic cod had gathered to feast on the incoming bounty. The gray green water boiled with the feeding cod, one of the most abundant species in high Arctic waters.
The Arctic food web, which includes the cod, is quite simple, but it includes many long-lived animals that accumulate significant amounts of contamination over a lifetime. For this reason, the Arctic food web concentrates and magnifies persistent chemicals to an even greater degree than that of the Great Lakes.
16. As one of the small codfish digested its stomachful of copepods, PCB-153 migrated to the fatty tissue near its tail, which already had a considerable store of persistent chemicals. Though far from a top predator, this cod carried PCBs at 48 million times the concentration found in the surrounding waters. Even so, the cod are still less contaminated than Great Lakes salmon because the ocean waters they inhabit are far cleaner.
That season, the cod carrying PCB-153 followed the shifting food supply, and on the trail of a particularly abundant crop of copepods, it gradually swam toward the eastern part of the Greenland Sea. Arctic cod spend the greater part of their lives feeding beneath the solid vault of ice that closes over high Arctic waters for most of the year. During the icebound period, ringed seals depend exclusively upon the schools of cod that wander beneath the ice.
17. It was only a matter of time before the cod carrying PCB-153 became a meal for a hungry adolescent seal that shot through the water, propelled by its powerful hind flippers. Like many seals searching for food, the youngster had wandered along a fracture in the sea ice west of the Svalbard Islands. The hunting had been good that winter, and the seal had added significantly to its ample blubber, which, despite its short life, contained not only PCB-153 but a high concentration of chlordane, DDT, toxaphene, and other persistent chemicals that were finding their way to the Arctic from all over the world. A seal eats hundreds of fish, ingesting and storing all the PCBs that had accumulated in them. For this reason, the PCB levels in the seals are eight times greater than in the cod, or 384 million times the concentrations in the ocean water.
Once the sea closes over with ice, the seals breathe through holes that they keep open by punching through at regular intervals with their noses. The great white bears can sniff out these holes from a remarkable distance, and they often hunt by waiting in ambush. The young seal had just surfaced to breathe when a lunged out and, in a single continuous movement, flipped the 150-pound animal out of the water and onto the ice. The ringed seal died instantly in the attack by the five-year-old female bear.
18. In thirty minutes, the polar bear had consumed the best parts of the seal-- its skin and succulent blubber-- and acquired PCB-153 along with a considerable synthetic chemical legacy. The bear was quickly gaining weight because of the good hunting, so as she laid on more fat the molecule moved into her well-insulated rump. In late April, the young female mated for the first time, and the next winter, gave birth to two tiny pink cubs. As mother and cubs nestled in their den, the cubs found their way to her nipples and began nursing on her rich, fatty milk. Throughout the winter, the mother and cubs all lived on the ample layers of fat she had laid down the previous year.
As the fat melted away, PCB-153 was on the move again, this time into the breast milk of the female bear. In a blast of warm, thick milk, the molecule shot into the mouth of one of the cubs. No one yet knows how persistent chemicals like PCBs harm polar bears or how much it takes to cause damage. But given experience with other wildlife species, it seems certain that PCB-153 and other persistent hormone-disrupting chemicals pose a greater hazard to the developing cubs than to the mother who ingested the chemicals from the seal blubber.
19. The twin cubs would continue to nurse for more than two years and to grow to roughly four hundred pounds each on the rich diet of polar bear milk. With each meal, they would take in more of the persistent chemicals that had traveled thousands of miles to the remote Arctic. The concentrations of PCBs had multiplied 3 billion times as they moved up the Arctic food chain to the polar bear, the top predator and largest land carnivore.
A decade later, one of the twins - now contaminated with our traveling PCB-153 - may have been among the pregnant females who emerged from a den in Svalbard without any cubs of her own. In 1992, Norwegian scientists noted an unexpected decline in births of polar bear cubs on Svalbard. Researchers are continuing to investigate whether PCBs and other contaminants are playing a role in polar bear declines.
Like polar bears, humans share the hazards of feeding at the top of the food web. The persistent synthetic chemicals that have invaded the great bear's world pervade ours as well.
Humans also carry PCBs and other persistent chemicals in their body fat, and they pass this chemical legacy on to their babies. Ironically, some of those living farthest from industrial centers and sources of pollution have suffered the greatest contamination.
These synthetic chemicals move everywhere, even through the placental barrier and into the womb, exposing the unborn during the most vulnerable stages of development. It has been three decades since health researchers discovered that DDT, PCBs, and other persistent chemicals were accumulating in human body fat and breast milk, as well as in every other part of the environment. The measurements have been the easy part. Since then, concerned scientists have been trying to understand their meaning. If we all carry around an alphabet soup of novel chemicals in our body, how is it affecting us? How is it affecting our children?
While researchers do not have all the answers to these questions, they are convinced that humans carry high enough levels of synthetic chemicals to endanger their children. Without knowing exactly how all these chemicals act, separately or together, the researchers have linked them not only to damage in wildlife offspring but in humans as well.
While prenatal exposure seems to pose the greatest hazard, health specialists also worry about the chemicals passed on in breast milk because some sensitive developmental processes continue in the weeks immediately after birth. During breast-feeding, human infants are exposed to higher concentrations of these chemicals than at any subsequent time in their lives. In just six months of breast-feeding, a baby in the United States and Europe gets the maximum recommended lifetime dose of dioxin, which rides through the food web like PCBs and DDT. The same breast-feeding baby gets five times the allowable daily level of PCBs set by international health standards for a 150-pound adult.
The contamination of breast milk has been particularly severe among indigenous people in the high Arctic, where many people still eat the wild food the land and sea provide. There, researchers have found that babies take in seven times more PCBs than the typical infant in southern Canada or the United States. The PCBs and other chemicals that contaminate the infants have almost all arrived by wind and water currents.
Canadian health officials have noted that many children in Inuit villages are plagued by chronic ear infections. Recent studies have found abnormalities in the immune systems of these children, including the discovery that their bodies do not produce the necessary antibodies when they are vaccinated for smallpox, measles, polio, and other diseases. The failure of vaccinations could make these children much more vulnerable to disease.
The Inuktitut language spoken on Broughton Island in the Canadian Arctic contains no word for contamination. This has made it all the harder for the Inuit people living there to grasp the news brought by Canadian health officials that persistent synthetic chemicals are polluting the high Arctic and the food they eat. Perhaps, some villagers suggested, the government officials were telling them the animals had something called PCBs to scare them, to keep them from killing any more whales or polar bears. Perhaps they were in cahoots with the animal rights crowd.
Broughton Island, which has a village of 450 people, lies off Baffin Island, west of Greenland, more than sixteen hundred miles from the smokestacks of southern Ontario, and twenty-four hundred miles from the industrial centers in Europe, but that distant world has cast its long shadow over the villagers' lives, filling them with uncertainty and fear. It threatens their culture, which has endured for thousands of years.
As their ancestors have before them, the men of Broughton Island fish and hunt to put food on the table. While they may give chase these days by snowmobile and powerboat instead of dogsled and kayak, they still pursue seals, polar bears, caribou, and narwhals-- small whales with a spiral tusk on their head like the legendary unicorn. The island does have a store that sells imported food, but the diet of most islanders still consists largely of wild fish and game.
As the Arctic has become the resting place for volatile persistent chemicals, the contamination has passed up the food web to humans. Canadian health studies have shown that the people on Broughton Island have the highest levels of PCBs found in any human population except those contaminated in industrial accidents.
The provincial health officials have told the villagers about the contamination found in their bodies, but they have not been able to tell them what these high PCB levels mean to their health or to the health of their children. In the meantime, they have recommended that the villagers continue to eat the traditional Inuit diet, which is otherwise far more nutritious than the food imported by bush plane and sold at a high price in the village store. In any event, with milk going for $4 a bottle and small turkeys for $40 each, most villagers have little choice.
Whatever the health effects, the report of high PCB levels, which was widely covered by the Canadian press, has caused economic, social, and psychological turmoil for the Broughton Islanders. Apparently unaware that they are probably carrying high PCB levels as well, other Baffin Island Inuit communities have begun shunning the villagers as the "PCB people" and discouraging marriages to them. A fish dealer in the south, who used to buy and sell Arctic char caught by the men of Broughton Island as a gourmet specialty, canceled his contract, thus cutting off one of the major sources of the islanders' cash income.
The news that their breast milk contains chemicals has left some of the women frightened and desperate. One mother decided to stop nursing in an effort to protect her new baby. After several weeks of being bottle fed a mixture of water and Coffee-mate, the baby was hospitalized.
The Broughton Island people are not a unique case, only the most extreme example discovered thus far of human contamination with persistent chemicals. No matter where we live, we share their fate to some degree. Many chemicals that threaten the next generation have found their way into our bodies. There is no safe, uncontaminated place.