Derek Muir

A research scientist with Environment Canada shares his passion on 20 years of working with the NCP, and stresses its importance and support for long term data sets.

Transcript: Derek Muir

I’m Derek Muir. I’m a research scientist with Environment Canada based in Burlington, Ontario, and I work on the Northern Contaminants Program, and I’ve been working on it actually for over 20 years.

I enjoy working in the Arctic. It’s a unique place – some spectacular countryside and spectacular aspects that you just don’t see anywhere else in Canada. I contributed to the data set that originally kind of got the NCP going in terms of measurements of contaminants in marine mammals and fish back in the 1980s. The really great thing about it has been the continuity, the fact that it’s had support over the years and has allowed us to develop long-term time trends for many contaminants.

My work really in the Arctic wouldn’t be possible without the Northern Contaminants Program. It has really provided us with the support continuously over 20 years. And as a result we develop long-term data sets which we hope are valuable both for Canada, for northerners, and for the world actually.

I’m a great believer in long-term data sets. In my case, my long-term data sets are chemicals in fish and in seals. And I think this has helped us enormously to understand both the effect of banning things globally – we can see the effect and the downturn going. And also it makes us understand that the Arctic is attached to the rest of the world, and when things start to increase in use in the south, they show up in the north. And you just can’t get that picture from a snapshot going up and sampling once or twice.

Other aspects, though, are equally important. I think the fact that the program has managed to increasingly involve local people in it and both from the point of view of deciding what projects are supported but also participating in actual sampling.

I think originally there was great excitement about just the fact that there were contaminants in the north and in people’s food. And I think we perhaps have matured and understand that to some extent this is an inevitable thing, that it’s related to the way chemicals move globally and so on, and we’ve come to understanding that we need to – it’s not so much that we have a contamination situation as we have a food supply that is very nutritious and valuable to people both culturally and from a nutritional point of view. And we’re trying to just provide information to protect it really. That kind of maturity of our approach is something that’s – I’d say it has evolved in a very positive way over the last 20 years.


Derek Muir is a senior scientist with the Aquatic Contaminants Research Division of Environment Canada. Derek has been studying contaminants in the Arctic since the 1980s and has been involved with the NCP since its inception. Derek leads monitoring and research projects on ringed seal and Arctic char.