High Artic Low Quality  

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When we think of the arctic, we think snow – pure white snow. Nothing in that image suggests contamination, in my mind I see purity, I see crystal clear water. But don’t be fooled, unfortunately our poles are the magnetic field for attracting all sorts of pollutants.  

The passage between Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard Islands is called the Fram Strait, and studies of this body of water have found more than 12,000 microplastic particles per litre and, in the snow on top of the sea ice 14,000 microplastic particles per litre was found!  

As the Arctic sea ice melts, scientists are finding more and more microplastics and even cigarette filters. I haven’t yet found studies of microplastics in drinking water in the Arctic, however this article published this year indicates that they are lurking in the Arctic waters: https://www.nature.com/articles/s43247-021-00091-0  

Mercury is also a huge problem in the Arctic, especially now with climate change and the melting of permafrost. We are seeing high levels of mercury once captured in the permafrost, now being released into the environment. Very little of the mercury present in the Arctic comes from the region, in fact it is brought from southern countries travelling in the atmosphere and deposited in the high Arctic. It has been estimated there is 32 million gallons worth of mercury trapped in the permafrost which a portion will be released into the environment. What’s scary is it is still unknown where it will go and what it will do.  

Drinking water quality in the Artic is under threat, and not just from microplastics. A study in Nunavik, Quebec found that 80% of plastic water containers sampled contained > 10 total coliform bacteria per 100mL. In 2017, Daley et al found that not only biological growth in water storage was a problem but that elevated turbidity, iron, manganese and lead was found in the drinking water.  

Many communities in the North rely on trucked water and septic as the climate inhibits the installation of underground infrastructure. Therefore, the drinking water treatment is limited to chlorination in most cases. Chlorination used to treat water drinking water has by-products such as Trihalomethanes and Haloacetic acids. In Postville and Rigolet concentrations of THMs and HAA were more than double the recommended levels in 2015. These DBPs are associated with reproductive toxicity several cancers including bladder, colon, rectal, pancreatic and brain cancer. Research has shown that in some Inuit communities they have recorded the highest incidence rates of self-reported acute gastrointestinal illness in Canada. 

The challenges in relation to drinking water in the High Arctic can no longer be overlooked by researchers and government. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted vulnerability to water insecurity in many Inuit and other Arctic communities and the public health risks associated with poor water infrastructure. Further investigation is required to fully understand the depth and breadth of drinking water quality and accessibility issues throughout Northern Canada and the High Arctic.