Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier National Park and you're immediately struck by the alpine beauty of this national park. Shimming lakes, waterfalls that seem to dangle from cliffs hundreds of feet in the air, glaciers off which the sun glints. But appearances can be deceiving.
Stored in the lakebeds, locked in the glaciers, and even absorbed by the needs on conifers are chemicals and pesticides from far-off places. In some lakes, the concentrations held in fish are toxic to wildlife that forage on the fish.
“(F)or certain contaminants, wildlife exposure thresholds are exceeded for several different species that feed on fish<” says Dixon Landers, a senior research scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Landers spent three years in Glacier's backcountry, sampling the lakes, glaciers and vegetation to see what they might have absorbed. Disturbingly, he found quite a bit. Some of what he found was reported by the Missoulian newspaper of Montana:
To the eye, the water was clear straight through to bottom. But to his high-tech chemical sniffers, it was a nasty brew. Dacthal, a pesticide not used much in the States but still applied in Canada. Hexachlorocyclohexanes, pesticides banned in North America but still used overseas.
Other scientists have studied water and snow chemistry here, looking mostly for the “dirty dozen,” a group made up of pesticides known collectively as “persistent organic pollutants,” or POPs. Landers' work added significantly to that list, searching for more than 100 “semi-volatile organic compounds,” or SOCs.
If you're in Kalispell tomorrow, Mr. Dixon will present his findings during a talk on “Glacier National Park: Airborne Contaminants, Sources and Risk to Park Ecosystems.” The talk will be offered in rooms 144 A and B of the Arts and Technology Building at Flathead Valley Community College.