Research Program Will Die March 31
A research program that's just starting to generate detailed
knowledge about toxic substances in Arctic country food
and their effects on humans will die at the end of this
During a three-day conference in Ottawa this week, researchers
working with the Northern Contaminants Program presented
the results of their work for what may be the last time.
That work includes a study from Nunavik showing contaminants
such as PCB and mercury may be having "subtle effects"
on the brains and nervous systems of infants born to mothers
who eat large amounts of marine mammal food.
Dr. Joseph Jacobson, a developmental psychologist at
Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, has discovered
brain and nervous system damage in children born to mothers
who ate PCB-laden fish from the Great Lakes. Jacobson
found that such children had poor motor skills, learning
problems, and scored below average on intelligence tests.
The northern program's research - funded for the past
10 years by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern
Development - shows many Canadian Inuit carry similar
levels of PCB in their bodies. But now there's no money
to study how PCB and other pollutants affect the Inuit
The unborn children of expectant mothers are at greatest
risk - because PCB and other pollutants pass into their
bodies while they're still in the womb.
Studies show that 73 per cent of Inuit women have PCB
levels in their blood up to five times higher than Health
Canada's guidelines. For other persistent organic pollutants,
or POPs, up to half of the Inuit studied have contaminant
intakes about 20 times higher than Health Canada guidelines.
For Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar
Conference and other northern aboriginal leaders, this
demonstrates why DIAND should continue the northern contaminants
program for another five years at least.
"How widespread is this? What are the long-term
effects from generation to generation? There are a lot
of questions that remain to be answered," Watt-Cloutier
She added that without the program, Canada can't meet
it's commitments under the Stockholm Convention, an international
treaty on the worldwide reduction of POP emissions signed
"You can't have the Canadian government, which has
been at the forefront in banning these substances globally,
leaving us out in the lurch without further money to do
the research. If this were happening in southern Canada,
we wouldn't even be having this discussion about why the
program should be continuing," Watt-Cloutier said.
For now, the ICC and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami still
say the health benefits of eating country food, especially
marine mammal food, outweigh the threat posed by the environmental
contaminants contained in it.
But they say expectant and nursing mothers should think
twice about eating too much marine mammal food. That's
because blubber-rich food from the sea is far more contaminated
than food from the land.
"It's about giving information so that women can
make the choices. When you are expecting or nursing or
when your children are very young ... there are certain
choices that would be better for you to make," Watt-Cloutier
Research results from the past five years of the northern
contaminants program are contained in a 960-page document
called the Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report
II, or CACAR II for simplicity.
The program, headed by DIAND, brought together representatives
from ICC, ITK, the Dene Nation, the Council of Yukon Indians,
the Nunavik Nutrition and Health Committee, various territorial
government health and environment departments, and three
other federal ministries.
Aboriginal leaders are using this week's Ottawa meeting,
held to present the CACAR II report, to launch an aggressive
lobby aimed at continuing the program.