Environmental contaminants and human health in the Canadian Arctic

Author Name: 
Donaldson, S. G., Van Oostdam, J., Tikhonov, C., et al.
Publication Date: 
Friday, January 1, 2010
Private File Attachment: 
This article is considered by many to be the definitive text on the Inuit native people in particular and especially the environment of the Canadian Arctic, a region 1600 miles north of Seattle, Washington and is known to experience frigid weather of 40 below zero F. It discusses the following in high detail, food and dietary research, health status of the Canadian Arctic population, human exposure to environmental contaminants, toxicology, Epidemiology of human health effects related to the presence of contaminants in the Canadian Arctic, Risk communication in the Canadian Arctic, the conclusions and knowledge gaps discovered. It is 70 pages long, a summary of each chapter will be attempted. Food and Dietary Research This section provides a review of the benefits of country food (also known as traditional food), dietary studies, and the health implications of dietary change in Arctic Canada. Economic benefits to eating traditional food are pronounced. Food prices can be doubled for those Inuit’s living in the Northern Territories, thus it is essential for Inuit’s to hunt and fish to survive. Also the trend exists that the consumption of ‘country food’ has needed to increase. Research was conducted on Children and showed that kids who eat country food had far more nutrient intake than those without. Climate change is also a factor in food intake. Some climate changes were positive and some caused animals to retreat further North away from Inuit lands. The effect of eating all of this local food could be to increase Methylmercury intake in the population. This is studied. The global warming effect for now has caused a decrease in seal meat but an increase in fish meat, a net positive for Inuit health. Overall except for any toxicant levels Inuit’s show better BMI and waist sizes than their European or Southern Canadian counterparts and the diet of Inuit’s is incredibly rich in nutrient value. Health status of the Canadian Arctic population The purpose of this section is to provide a short overview of selected health status indicators for northern populations of Canada. This studies disease outcomes and diseases in the local population of Nunavut. It does not discuss health in a holistic way neither does it discuss measures of health systems or Canadian health care plan. Inuit people have traditionally been known to have less health and more disease than the average. Many studies are put forth to study this anomaly. A baby boom of sorts is noticed, a cause being longer living parents and better pregnancy care. The average age of Inuit’s in Canada is now a mere 20 years compared to 34 in the southern territories. Studies show health problems could arise then, because of breastmilk in mothers transferring harmful chemicals into their offspring. Also, while infant mortality has been decreasing its still painfully high, 17.7 per 1000 against 4.4 for the rest of Canada. The leading causes of death are discussed, the number one was cancer, unintentional deaths are also higher because Inuit’s live very dangerous lives of mining, fishing and live in a hostile environment. Sexually transmitted diseases are more common in Nunavut lands. The Nunavut people are said to be more sexually adventurous than Canadians and also less informed about the dangers of STD’s and the benefits of condoms. Over there is much data about this but it is apparent that the health status could be much improved. Human exposure to environmental contaminants and Epidemiology of human health effects related to the presence of contaminants in the Canadian Arctic Much of the data here is covered in other articles but this will be an excellent overview for anyone looking to see all of it and more and sometimes better in one place. The very important thing to note is this data focuses entirely on Inuit people whereas other articles have focused on Mohawk, Navajo and Ojibe people. Risk communication in the Canadian Arctic “The bioaccumulation of environmental contaminants in country food and the lack of affordable, accessible, and culturally acceptable substitutes for country food in Arctic Canada raise complex issues for the public health field” (Donaldson, 2010) Knowing the risks of eating country food in Canada has their own specific difficulties. There are uncertainties when one cannot test the food. Also there are many ways to test for contaminants but nothing has been defined as yet. Despite this, there has been work done by the Northern Contaminants Program (NCP) to strengthen the process. Risk management strategies for country food were defined. The work of researchers to prove ‘is my food safe to eat’ is moving quickly to stop concerns about it. The point of risk management studies is to do this. Inside of the Donaldson et al article are many examples of studies that are meant to prove what is happening to country food, how people consume it, when they do it, how nutritious it is for them and how many contaminants persist in it. Overall this paper is a must read for anyone studying the above health issues.