Contaminants found in game meat

Study focuses on traditional sources of First Nations food

A new study into potential environmental contamination from the oilsands has found high levels of mercury arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in animals traditionally eaten by First Nations people and hunters in the region.

The University of Manitoba study examined organs and muscle tissue collected from moose beavers muskrats and waterfowl near Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta.

Lead researcher Stephané McLachlan from the university’s environment and geography department says contaminants found in animal organs such as kidneys and livers were high enough to be dangerous for regular human consumption though those in muscle tissue were at low enough levels to be relatively safe to eat.

McLachlan says the correlation between the oilsands industry and heavy metals found in these animals is strong considering “the oilsands is the largest emitter of arsenic and mercury in the province.”

He also says the findings of heavy metals and PAHs in this study are consistent with other environmental studies conducted in northern Alberta.

“The fact that all of these studies are showing similar trends and patterns indicates that something is happening and that industry plays a very strong role” he says.

The study is part of a holistic research project analyzing First Nations in northern Alberta and incorporating their communities’ traditional environment food sources and health. McLachlan says it is different from other studies being conducted in the area in the way it involves First Nations input and guidance into the direction of future research. He says that factor is important because First Nations communities are well aware of the international interest in how the oilsands affects them but rarely have the chance to participate with research.

“This is one of the most studied communities in the world…. Researchers are literally tripping over one another in the streets. There’s filmmakers and the industry and government and there are always outsider scientists…. Very rarely does the community ever hear back from scientists” McLachlan explains.

“So they’re in a desperate situation because they know things are happening they know there’s tremendous interest and they know lots of money is being spent. Data is collected but they never know what the outcome is…. By doing this iterative collaborative approach to research what we’re trying to do now is trying to close that loop. To have the community members in the leadership.”