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Posted Wed Dec 9 2009: from University of Michigan, via EurekAlert:
Study reveals how Arctic food webs affect mercury in polar bears
Mercury is a naturally occurring element, but some 150 tons of it enter the environment each year from human-generated sources such as coal-burning power plants, incinerators and chlorine-producing plants. Deposited onto land or into water, mercury is picked up by microorganisms, which convert some of it to methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish and the animals that eat them. As bigger animals eat smaller ones, the methylmercury is concentrated -- a process known as bioaccumulation. Sitting at the top of the food chain, polar bears amass high concentrations of the contaminant.... The study showed that polar bears that get most of their nutrition from phytoplankton-based food webs have greater mercury concentrations than those that participate primarily in ice algae-based webs. While it's tempting to speculate that declining sea ice, due to global warming, may force polar bears to depend more on phytoplankton-based webs, thus increasing their mercury exposure, the study doesn't directly address that issue.
[Read more stories about: arctic meltdown, contamination, heavy metals, toxic buildup]

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