During the last decades, environmental studies have found concerning quantities of contaminants in the Arctic food chain. Increasingly, the Inuit have to deal with the fact that the information available (biological, physical, chemical) is quite difficult to comprehend and often misconstrued through media distortion. In Nunavik, a first step toward community-based environmental risk communications was undertaken. After a preliminary survey found concerning levels of contaminants in breast milk, a detailed research program was initiated and a resource committee was set up to disseminate information on the ongoing research activities and also on the issue of the contamination of the food chain by organochlorines. This communication will present a summary of events linked with the committee's activities and a discussion on the uneasy task of communicating risks.
The presentation focuses on the repercussions of mining on the relations between the physical and human environments in the Arctic. Direct and indirect effects of mining on Inuit health are discussed from the general perspective of environmental health. First, potential direct effects on the human environment are described from the viewpoint of occupational health (traumatic, physical, chemical, biological risks) and the population's risks in regard to marine and land transportation. Then, indirect toxicological risks (mainly through the contamination of the food chain) as well as social and cultural impacts on human health are discussed (e.g., through relational stress, consumption pattern changes, pressure on resource management and land use, etc.). Finally, induced impacts of direct and indirect health effects are illustrated by case study examples of mineral resource development projects. Cumulative impacts of mining are highlighted in view of the need to evaluate and monitor long-term as well as short-term health effects through the integration of multidisciplinary evaluations and local knowledge, expectancies, and issues.
This communication describes work done to date by the Environmental Health Service on the development of multidisciplinary research regarding the health status and problems of the Inuit in relation to the contamination of the Eastern Canadian Arctic food chain. The concepts of total environmental and global health are outlined in order to introduce a discussion on the social impacts of contaminants. This input is presented as the basis of the development of an ecosystems health perspective on contaminants research which emphasizes the integration of the medical, social, economic, and political dimensions of the contamination of the Eastern Canadian Arctic.
For cultural and economic reasons, Inuit people rely heavily on country foods for their subsistence. Knowing the contamination levels for organochlorines and heavy metals reported in the edible tissues of sea mammals and their estimated daily intake, relatively high body burdens are predicted. In Arctic Canada, human concentrations have been reported for heavy metals (lead, cadmium and mercury) and organochlorines (PCBs, dioxins, chlorinated pesticides, etc.). A decrease in mercury exposure over the last decade is observed, although no temporal trend could be observed for organochlorines, because results on the latter are only available since 1985-1986.