North Pole, traces of sunscreen and other polluting products found in snow

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Traces of sunscreen and other personal care products also got on the snow Svalbard Islands, at the North Pole, just where the sun doesn’t rise even during daylight hours in winter. This was reported by a group of scientists from Ca’ Foscari University in Venice and the Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Research Council (Cnr-Isp) in collaboration with the University of Svalbard, who jointly investigated spatial and seasonal distribution of 13 compounds commonly found in this type of product. Results published on The science of the total environmentthey revealed its presence both near and far from the inhabited village of Ny-Ålesund, where the Dirigibile Italia research station is located.

I am studying

Includes sampling five glaciers of the Brøggerhalvøya peninsula in northwest Svalbard and was conducted in April and May 2021.It is the first time that many of the analyzed contaminants, such as Benzophenone-3, octocrylene, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate and ethylhexyl salicylateare identified in arctic snow” says Marianna D’Amico, a PhD student in polar sciences at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice and first author of the study. Most of the compounds detected, the researchers explain, have higher concentrations at low altitudes, with the exception of octocrylene and benzophenone-3, two UV filters commonly used in sunscreens, which are also present in significant amounts at the top of the glaciers taken into account.

Long-range atmospheric transport

The results highlight how the presence of emerging contaminants in remote areas can be attributed to the role of long-range atmospheric transport“, adds Marco Vecchiato, researcher in analytical chemistry at Ca’ Foscari and last author of the study:Indeed, the highest concentrations were found in winter deposits. At the end of winter, contaminated air masses from Eurasia reach the Arctic more easily“. And the most obvious example that at least some of these products come from a great distance is the detection of some UV filters commonly used in sunscreens: “The origin of the higher winter concentrations of these contaminants can only lie in continental areas inhabited at lower latitudes: in Svalbard, the sun does not rise during the arctic night and sunscreens are not used”, continues Vecchiato.

Contaminating products

And unfortunately, there is also no doubt as to whether this is the case or not products potentially harmful to the environment: we are actually talking about substances which are currently under investigation by the European Union and which have already been shown in any case to have harmful effects on aquatic organisms. For example, several studies show that the accumulation of benzophenone-3 in seas exposed to high tourist flows represents endangering the survival of corals. Some of these substances can also interfere with the functioning of the endocrine and hormonal systems of marine animals.

Monitoring their presence even in the most remote areas of the planet, such as the North Pole, is therefore essential, even from their point of view release into the environment during the snowmelt period: “It will be essential to understand the phenomenon of transport and deposition of these contaminants in polar regions, especially in relation to variations in local seasonal conditions.” concludes Andrea Spolaor, Cnr-Isp researcher and co-author of the study. “Conditions are changing rapidly in response to climate change, which is happening four times faster in the Arctic than in the rest of the world“.

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