Alaska Natives Push for More Toxin Studies
The Associated Press
Monday 20 June 2005
Fairbanks - Alaska Natives have seen runny bone marrow in moose
and caribou, and lesions and parasites in fish - and that makes Shawna
Larson wonder if toxic chemicals in these traditional foods are making
people sick, too.
"We see things our elders never used to see," she said at the
60th American Chemical Society Northwest Conference. "Why do we have
cancer? Why do we have high diabetes?"
Larson, who works for Alaska Community Action on Toxins, and
others say the anecdotal evidence linking sickness in the wild food
supply to illness in humans needs to be studied.
She also is working to change the way federal standards are
used to measure harmful levels of toxins in Alaska's wild foods.
Cancer is the leading cause of death among Alaska Natives, yet
50 years ago the disease was rare.
"Something is wrong," said Larson, who also works for the
Indigenous Environmental Network. "We just want to know why we are
Federal standards for measuring harmful levels of contaminants
are based on the number of fish meals that would sicken a 160-pound
But Larson says the government also should consider constant
low-level exposure because Native people eat fish more regularly.
Scientific studies suggest high rates of obesity and tobacco
use, not chemicals in the food chain, explain the corresponding rates
of cancer and other diseases in the Native population.
Research by the federal Environmental Protection Agency found
that fish in Cook Inlet contained low levels of contamination and were
safe to eat.
Some scientists at the conference acknowledged the need to
further study possible environmental causes for sickness among Alaska
"There is a gap between science and public opinion," said
Augustine Arukwe, a biology professor at the Norwegian University of
Science and Technology.
However, he said word-of-mouth isn't enough to prove a real
connection between high disease rates and the traditional wild food
"Science is rigid," Arukwe said. "To do good science you have
to do a certain procedure."
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