Flame retardant chemicals show up in High Arctic

An Environment Canada scientist has found new flame retardant chemicals are drifting by air from the south all the way up to the High Arctic.

Air-monitoring station at Alert finds chemicals used on furniture and kids' clothing

New research shows chemicals commonly used to keep flames from spreading are now being found in northern environments.

Environment Canada scientist Dr. Hayley Hung has found new flame retardants — chemicals often sprayed onto products like furniture, computer equipment or children's clothing — are drifting from the south all the way up to the High Arctic.

An Environment Canada weather and atmospheric monitoring station in Alert, Nunavut, seen here in 2006, has detected flame retardant chemicals used on products such as kids' clothing and furniture. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The chemicals were detected at an Environment Canada air-monitoring station at Alert, Nunavut, about 800 kilometres from the North Pole.

"These are the first evidence that these chemicals that are usually present in more populated areas do show up in more remote locations," said Hung.

Mark La Guardia, a researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, has studied the flame retardants and said they can take a long time to break down, and they accumulate in plants and animals.

"You can't take it back once it's out there," he said. "And if we keep on putting them out there, then sooner or later we may have a serious problem."

More research will determine how long the chemicals stay in the northern environment and just how problematic they really are, Hung said.