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The assessment by a scientific body set up by the eight Arctic rim countries also warns that climate change may worsen the problem, by releasing mercury stored for thousands of years in permafrost or promoting chemical processes that transform the substance into a more toxic form.

"It is of particular concern that mercury levels are continuing to rise in some Arctic species in large areas of the Arctic," despite emissions reductions in nearby regions like Europe, North America and Russia, said the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, or AMAP.

Emissions have increased in other parts of the world, primarily in China, which is now the world’s No. 1 mercury polluter, accounting for nearly half of total emissions, AMAP said.

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