DFO puts money into Frobisher Bay mercury study

“Mercury contamination is a continuing threat”

Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of fisheries and oceans, participates in some scientific data collection with a team of students and researchers from the University of Waterloo on the Apex beach outside Iqaluit last Friday, Aug. 2. (Photo courtesy of the DF0)

By Nunatsiaq News

A project that plans to look at mercury contamination in Frobisher Bay received a financial boost, when Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister for fisheries and oceans, came to Nunavut with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

On the Apex beach Aug. 2, Wilkinson, wearing rubber boots, even took his turn at collecting a sample for a new project, which the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will help finance.

During his visit to the Nunavut capital, Wilkinson announced that a University of Waterloo project on mercury levels in Frobisher Bay in fish and invertebrates, like clams and starfish, will receive $108,000 from his department’s coastal environmental baseline program.

The multi-year project will focus on the collection of coastal environmental baseline data related to mercury, which is found in nature, and its toxic cousin, methylmercury, which is produced directly and indirectly as part of several industrial processes and carried to the Arctic by air and water currents.

The project’s overall goal is to characterize the current state of the ecosystem in Frobisher Bay, a backgrounder says.

It will focus on measuring concentrations of total mercury and methylmercury in clams, starfish, barnacles, Arctic cod and other forage fish species, such as four-horned and Arctic sculpin, and Sylvia Grinnell’s stock of Arctic char.

The project description notes that “mercury contamination is a continuing threat” to the health of Arctic ecosystems and its residents, who rely on country foods.

Mercury has been linked to a host of serious health problems, including permanent brain and kidney damage.

And multiple studies have already shown that women of childbearing age are especially susceptible to high levels of mercury in their diet, because they can pass toxic effects on to their children during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

This is why the Arctic Council, through its Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, has called for a “legally binding global agreement” to address Arctic mercury levels since 2011.

In 2013, the United Nations did try to address environmental mercury contamination through in the Minamata Convention on Mercury, adopted in October 2013, which aims to control and minimize mercury levels caused by human activity.

But despite global moves to restrict the industrial production of mercury, levels of these chemicals remain elevated in some species in the Arctic, according to a recent Arctic Council report.

The DFO study is intended to help better understand how Arctic char absorb mercury, the project description said.

The project will also contribute to capacity building in Iqaluit, as residents will assist in collecting samples.

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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by Lynda Gunn on

    DFO: How about taking the Royal Roads study done on the leftover dumps and solid waste in Iqaluit from 1950s and measuring the effects on Koojesse Inlet, Tarr Inlet and Frobisher Bay near Apex clams and other benthos feeding marine life? The Apex landfill was cited in the study as having an underground stream running through it carrying dangerous toxins with it that were landing up in Tarr Inlet … nasties like PCB, lead, cobalt. Also, what are the effects of the sewage lagoon, a primary treatment method that doesn’t work in Arctic clime due to short light and warmth season, on our marine ecosystem? You’re measuring mercury which you say is naturally occuring – how about other dangerous contaminants, ongoing, that are landing up in the water and benthos?

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