Environmental contaminants pose a global threat to people and the environment as they can be transported over long distances in products or as waste, as well as by air and ocean currents. High levels may therefore occur far from where the contaminants originated, and long after they were first produced.
Examples are the high levels of some environmental contaminants in the Arctic and in underprivileged parts of the world where certain types of waste are recycled according to outdated methods. Rational measures to limit environmental contaminants require understanding of sources and levels (exposure) in order to protect people and the environment.
At NILU, we work with developing and applying mathematical models to understand and predict these kinds of contexts. The models are used to track transport of environmental contaminants all the way from production, through society and ecosystems, and into the human body. The contaminant modelling at NILU focuses especially on the significance of atmospheric long-range transport.
The models can be used for many purposes, including understanding environmental contaminant measurements, which sources and transport routes dominate, where and when to expect high exposure levels and how long it takes before the environmental contaminants disappear. Overall, this research can provide useful information on which measures may be appropriate. The goal for developing these models is to be able to reveal potential new environmental pollutants much earlier than is currently possible – and maybe even determine which types of chemical substances should not be produced at all.