Read the full article by Yereth Rosen (Anchorage Daily News)

“Chemicals from fire retardants and other materials have accumulated in the bodies of seals, whales and other animals of the northern Bering Sea, showing that pollutants emitted thousands of miles away continue to contaminate animals on which Indigenous people depend for food, according to a newly published study.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research, focuses on marine mammals and reindeer harvested by the Yup’ik residents of St. Lawrence Island, at the southern end of the Bering Strait.

Through samples donated by hunters, researchers — who included island residents themselves — found varying levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and per- and polyfuoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in marine mammals and reindeer on or around the island.

PBDEs are a class of compounds used as flame retardants. PFAS compounds are also used for that purpose but are found in a wide variety of consumer products such as cosmetics, clothing and cookware; they are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not break down in the environment. PBDEs have been phased out in the United States since 2004, but there is no national PFAS ban.

The study of subsistence foods at St. Lawrence Island shows how contaminants carried to the far north by atmospheric and ocean currents persist for years and sometimes decades, burdening the region’s Indigenous people.

‘We are being contaminated against our will,’ said study co-author Vi Waghiyi, who is from Savoonga, one of the two villages on the island.

Still, the findings should not deter people from conducting their harvests of negepik, or traditional foods, said Waghiyi, the environmental health and justice program director at Alaska Community Action on Toxics, a nonprofit environmental health organization based in Anchorage.”…