Hayley Hung and Sandy Steffen

Two Environment Canada scientists reflect on their experience working on contaminants-related issues in the Arctic through the Northern Contaminants Program (NCP).

Transcript: Hayley Hung and Sandy Steffen

Hayley Hung:

Hi, my name is Hayley Hung. I work with Environment Canada. I work on organic pollutants in the air in the arctic.

It’s exciting to see the people in the North that they are very well aware of the problems that they are very engaged with our research they want to understand more why these contaminants get into the system. So it’s very exciting to work with people in the North.

I would say that NCP has a huge role to play in my entire career. Basically I was hired when I first started as a post-doctoral fellow working under NCP, and the main data set that I was working with, actually that I am still working with is the world’s longest time series of persistent organic pollutants in air. 

Sandy Steffen:

My name is Sandy Steffen. I’m a researcher with Environment Canada and I look at the transport, transition and deposition of mercury in the arctic region.

I work on mercury, so I look at how much mercury there is in the air, how mercury gets to the arctic and how it is transformed in the air, and what causes it to come down out of the air and deposit. Basically I started working on NCP since I started working for Environment Canada and we’ve been working together at Environment Canada, since the early 2000’s and we’ve been working on NCP together for almost 13 years now.

It is exciting to study how these pollutants, although they are man-made and they are not very often used in the arctic somehow they get carried all the way from the South, reaching the arctic region, and get accumulated into the environment.

One of the advantages to working with the NCP is we’ve been measuring persistent organic pollutants and mercury for over 20 years so we can do is see how things are changing with time. One of the important things with climate change is you see how things change with time. And the important part with climate change is how it is affecting the sea ice and the sea ice has a direct impact on how the chemistry of how these pollutants, these contaminants in the arctic, are distributed. And so I just think climate change is such an important factor in the arctic because the arctic is such a vulnerable environment and we need to be able to understand the processes that go on with contaminants in the arctic so that we can understand how climate change is affecting their distribution through the ecosystem through the wildlife, and into the people.

Hayley Hung:

We actually produced early warning signals that these pollutants could be pollutants of concern in the future and we notify policy makers that these pollutants appear in the arctic so that they can look further into potential toxicities and also this contributes to international agreements such as the Stockholm international convention on POPs, which controls these substances all over the globe.

So the data set is very valuable because we have built a time series that cannot be obtained anywhere else except in the Arctic to show that these substances do make their way into remote regions.


Sandy Steffen and Hayley Hung are research scientists with the Air Quality Research Division of Environment Canada and have been involved with the NCP since the late 1990s. Sandy currently leads monitoring and research projects on mercury in the Arctic atmosphere. Hayley’s involvement with the NCP began with her work on POPs in the Arctic atmosphere as a post-doctoral fellow. She now leads research and monitoring on POPs in air.

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