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DDT in Alaska meltwater poses cancer risk for people who eat lots of fish

Children in Alaska whose diet includes a lot of fish from rivers fed by the Eastern Alaska Mountain Range may have a long-term elevated risk for cancer because of insecticides — including DDT — in the meltwater.

Even with low levels of organochlorine pollutants (OCPs) in glacial meltwater, the risk of cancer for youth and adults who rely on fish as a staple of their diet is above the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold limit, says Kimberley Miner, research assistant professor at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute.

The risk to children exposed to DDT and hexachlorocyclohexane accumulated in fish is significantly higher than it is for adults, though, because of their size and lifetime exposure.

As Alaskan glaciers melt in the warming climate, Miner says the gradual release of these OCPs may continue to elevate watershed concentrations above the current level.

The findings are in the article “A screening-level approach to quantifying risk from glacial release of organochlorine pollutants in the Alaskan Arctic” in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

There are 1,655 families in the larger Yukon interior region and 508 families within the Tanana River watershed. Miner recommends that people who eat large amounts of fish (more than 20 pounds per year or 6 ounces per week) in these and other Arctic areas be a priority for future research about risks from glacial meltwater pollution.

Health risks from drinking Jarvis Glacier meltwater are negligible for adults and children at this time, she found.

Miner and UMaine colleagues Karl Kreutz, Shaleen Jain and Seth Campbell, as well as University of Alaska, Fairbanks researcher Anna Liljedahl, conducted this first-ever OCP risk assessment for people in the Arctic.

They analyzed Jarvis Glacier ice cores and meltwater collected in summer 2016 and spring 2017.

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