Ottawa wants pitches to study pollutants in the Arctic food chain

By Nunatsiaq News - December 11, 2017

The Canadian government is seeking proposals to better understand how contaminants are building up in the Arctic food chain and affecting traditional foods.

The Northern Contaminants Program aims to connect northern residents and governments with university and federal scientists. The program has $4 million earmarked for the coming year to help fund 50-60 projects.

“It is vital that people across the North live in a healthy environment with safe food,” said Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs, in a news release. “That’s why we want to support projects that elevate the work of scientists and Indigenous knowledge holders who have a deep understanding of this ecosystem and how pollutants travel through it.

“This work will also provide the government with better information to assess the impacts on traditional and country foods that are of great nutritional and cultural importance to people of this region.”

The program is currently funding two projects that focus on food-chain contaminants in Nunavik, led by Pierre Ayotte and Mélanie Lemire at the Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec-Université Laval (CRCHU).

Earlier this year, an Arctic Council report found “significantly decreasing trends” in the amounts of persistent organic chemicals found in the circumpolar world. These chemicals—which include PCBs, DDT and dioxins—are produced for industrial uses and end up being carried by air and by water currents to the Arctic, where they collect in the fats of animals and humans and are known to cause health problems.

But the report warned “there is no case for complacency,” as newer chemicals are showing signs of increasing, and there can be a lag of several decades between the arrival on the market of a new chemical and a full understanding of its environmental consequences.

Proposals for the Northern Contaminants Program must be submitted by Jan. 10, 2018. Projects selected for funding will be announced in the spring.