The POP-hunt – a bit like CSI

The POP-hunt – a bit like CSI

Top image: Pernilla Carlsson and her field assistants extract tissue samples from a reindeer in Svalbard. (Photo: Pernilla Carlsson/UNIS).

UNIS staff wanted to investigate how much of pesticides and other pollutants (POPs) are present in the Svalbard reindeer. At the same time they wanted to show pupils at the local school how scientists are working and hopefully kindle their interest in subjects related to environmental issues, such as chemistry.

29 January 2013
Text: Pernilla Carlson, UNIS PhD candidate, and Roland Kallenborn, UNIS/Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

There are few studies done on pesticides and perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) in reindeer. The substances are transported from the south to the Arctic by air or ocean currents. The most common source for pesticides is food and indoor air for PFAS.

We wanted to investigate how much of these substances are present in the Svalbard reindeer. At the same time we saw an opportunity to engage the Longyearbyen School. We wanted to show the pupils how a chemist and a biologist are working and hopefully kindle their interest in subjects related to environmental issues, such as chemistry.

Chemistry is often portrayed as a difficult and dull subject and the aim was to show the pupils the other side of chemistry; that it is used in a various number of ways in modern society, and also an important tool for quality insurance of rules and regulations concerning pollutants and pharmaceuticals.

During the project period (September 2010 – December 2012) we visited the Longyearbyen School three times. In November 2010 the 8th graders got to know the POP-hunt project and introduce them to scientific terminology and talk a little about research on pollutants.

Half a year later, in May 2011, the pupils were introduced to what it is really like to do research, what career paths a biologist or chemist can have, and more in-depth information about the specific pollutants we were looking for in the reindeer samples.

It’s just like CSI!
The third and final visit, in September 2012, was to the junior and senior high school pupils specializing in biology. These pupils also came down to UNIS for a guided tour of our laboratories last December. They were introduced to the lab instruments we use, and got a demonstration of sample analysis and extraction techniques.

We also talked about analytical chemistry in a broader perspective and pointed out what areas these techniques can be used, for instance in pharmaceutical chemistry and criminal investigations analyses (like they perform on the TV-show “CSI”). In addition to the lectures to the pupils, we have also produced school materials for the instructors to use when teaching children about pollutants.

The results of the project and the idea behind the project have also been presented on a conference on energy- and environmental measures arranged by the Local Council technical department and at the in «International Polar Year – from knowledge to action» in Montreal in 2012.

Low concentrations
In 2011 and 2012 several samples were taken from Svalbard reindeer for analysis of PFAS, pesticides and PCB. The results showed that the concentration of PFAS was under the detection margins for several animals. The reason is probably that reindeer eat grass and mosses, whereas animals feeding higher up in the food chain will most likely have higher concentrations of PFAS. The accurate numbers for pesticides- and PCB concentrations in Svalbard reindeer will be presented later this year.

The POP-hunt project was partly financed by the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund.

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