Burning garbage releases poisonous chemicals into the air our children breathe. Yet the practice per

Health survey should measure toxins

By Nedd Kenney

When the coast guard ship Amundsen arrived last week in Pangnirtung for the Nunavut Inuit Health Survey, researchers did an admirable job to understand the health status of community residents, but they did not get the full picture.

Inuit children under five years of age were not tested for the range of toxic contaminants spewing into Pangnirtung fiord from the regular dump burns. They were only tested for mercury levels.

This leaves Inuit parents in the dark as to the levels of serious toxins their children are being contaminated with, and may logically result in life-altering health complications. There is a pathetic contradiction in all of this.

Dump burning releases a range of extremely dangerous toxins like PCBE, dioxins and furans which are proven to be fat-seeking and bio-magnifying. Children under five years of age absorb the kind of fat-seeking toxins at a rate much faster than adults or older children because their bodies are rapidly accumulating fat cells in their expanding brains, organs and body tissue.

That's bad news for the kids, but not new news for the rest of us.

Northerners were informed of the link between carcinogenic PCBEs and "local burning of garbage" in the 2003 edition of the Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report II. Anyone can find ample evidence of the scientifically proven dangers of open garbage burning on the Internet.

The pathetic part is that a Government of Nunavut environment health officer told Nunavummiut via CBC radio in August that there was no great long term risk from exposure to dump smoke.

The federal and territorial governments share responsibility for enforcing safe air quality in Nunavut. Environment Canada is too under-funded and under-staffed to uphold its federal responsibility for air quality control, and apparently the GN cannot meet its enforcement responsibility either, due to capacity issues.

No wonder the GN environmental health officer is minimizing the risk: if people connected the known science to the reality, somebody would have to be accountable for poisoning the children or actually make the infrastructure investment so Panniqtummiut could appropriately manage their waste.

But without air quality testing in the community, there is no baseline data, and without testing the children under five, there is no accurate human health baseline data. Without data, how could there be a problem? No funding, no monitoring, no control, no enforcement, no problem. The lack of federal investment in Nunavut communities is a disgrace.

Unfortunately, the Nunavut Inuit Health Survey will provide only a partial perspective on Inuit health; it will not reveal the truth about the impact of contamination in their children's bodies from the ongoing policy of open dump burning.

If the ship arrived in Pangnirtung on Sept. 4 amid the clouds of particulate matter from the dump fire, researchers could have had the unique experience of being participant observers in the deterioration of Inuit children's health. In this regard, the Nunavut Inuit Health Survey missed the boat.

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