Synopsis of research conducted under the 2014-2015 Northern Contaminants Program

Full Report (PDF)


This report provides a summary of the progress to date of research and monitoring studies pertaining to contaminants from long-range sources in northern Canada, and related communications, outreach, capacity-building and policy activities that were conducted in 2014-2015 under the auspices of the Northern Contaminants Program (NCP).

The NCP mandate is to work to reduce and, wherever possible, eliminate contaminants in traditionally harvested foods, while providing information that assists informed decision making by individuals and communities in their food use. The projects reported herein cover the broad range of topics that contribute to understanding and addressing northern contaminants issues, as outlined in the NCP strategic plans (e.g., Blueprints), including dietary contaminant exposure, effects of contaminants on the health of people and ecosystems, contaminant levels and trends in the Arctic environment and wildlife and the influence of climate change, and community-based monitoring and research.

These projects were subject to a comprehensive technical, peer and northern social/cultural review process, involving external peer reviewers, technical review teams, regional contaminants committees and the NCP Management Committee. This review process ensures that each project supports the priorities and objectives of the Northern Contaminants Program, as outlined in the NCP blueprints and the annual call for proposals. All peer reviewers, review teams and regional contaminants committees use evaluation criteria to review and rate proposals. Consultation with northern community authorities and/or Indigenous organizations is required for all projects involving field work in the North and/or analyses of samples, as a condition of approval for funding.

Preliminary results of projects funded in the 2014-2015 year are presented here. Submission of a report for this publication ensures program transparency, allows for timely sharing of results, and is a mandatory deliverable for all recipients of NCP project funding. These reports and any future peer- reviewed publications related to these studies will be available through the NCP Publications Database housed at the Arctic Science and Technology Information System (ASTIS) hosted by the Arctic Institute of North America (AINA) at Other project deliverables include submission of data/ data sets/ metadata to the Polar Data Catalogue at


The Northern Contaminants Program (NCP) engages Northerners and scientists in researching and monitoring of long-range contaminants in the Canadian Arctic, that is, contaminants that are transported to the Arctic through atmospheric and oceanic processes from other parts of the world and which remain in the Arctic environment and build up in the food chain. The data generated by the NCP is used to assess ecosystem and human health, and the findings of these assessments are used to address the safety and security of traditional country foods that are important to the health and traditional lifestyles of Northerners and northern communities. The findings also inform policy, resulting in action to eliminate contaminants from long-range sources.

The NCP contributes scientific data and expertise to contaminants-related international initiatives such as the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), and to international agreements such as the UNEP Minamata Convention on Mercury, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and two protocols under the United Nation Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, working globally to improve the health of Arctic people and wildlife over the long term.

The NCP is directed by a management committee that is chaired by Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC), and consists of representatives from four federal departments (Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Health and CIRNAC), five territorial, provincial and regional governments (Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut), four northern Aboriginal organizations (Council of Yukon First Nations, Dene Nation, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Inuit Circumpolar Council), five regional contaminants committees, and Canada’s only Arctic-focused Network of Centres of Excellence (ArcticNet).

The management committee is responsible for establishing NCP policy and science priorities and for making final decisions on the allocation of funds. Regional contaminants committees established in Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut support this national committee. Funding for the NCP’s $4.1 million annual budget comes from CIRNAC and Health Canada.

Details about the management structures and review processes used to effectively implement the NCP, and the protocol to be used to publicly disseminate health and harvest information generated by the NCP can be found in the NCP Operational Management Guide (available upon request from the NCP Secretariat).

Highlights of 2014-2015

This report provides a summary of the progress to date of research and activities funded by the Northern Contaminants Program in 2014-2015. It is a compilation of reports submitted by project teams, emphasizing the results of research and related activities that took place during the year.

Some of the program’s highlights for 2014-2015 included:

  • The publication Contaminants in Canada’s North: Summary for Policy Makers ( was released in April 2015. It summarizes the integrated highlights and main findings from the recent technical assessments on mercury, persistent organic pollutants and health under the NCP. It also presents the NCP’s strategic directions and proposes a series of recommendations for broader measures related to achieving the NCP’s mandate and supporting Arctic science in general (see “10 Key Findings” and “NCP Future Directions” below).
  • Significant contributions by NCP scientists, Indigenous partners and the NCP Secretariat to the circumpolar Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) Working Group, as co-authors and co-chairs of scientific expert groups working on updates to circumpolar assessment reports, and as Canada’s Head of Delegation and Vice-Chair to AMAP, during Canada’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council (2013-2015).
  • A successful pilot project on human biomonitoring for contaminants got under way in the Deh Cho Region of the Northwest Territories, where fish consumption advisories have been put in place in recent years.
  • The Community-Based Monitoring subprogram expanded for the first time into all northern regions from Yukon to Nunatsiavut.
  • Finally, long-time Director of the Northern Contaminants Program, Chair of the NCP Management Committee, Russel Shearer, retired from the public service in 2015. He will be missed by the whole NCP community.

10 Key Findings of the Northern Contaminants Program

(from Contaminants in Canada’s North: Summary for Policy Makers)

  1. Concentrations of ‘legacy POPs’ are generally going down across the Arctic.
  2. As ‘new POPs’ come under regulation, their levels in the Arctic decline.
  3. Mercury levels in the Arctic are stabilizing but are still several times higher than during pre-industrial times.
  4. Climate change can affect how POPs and mercury cycle in the Arctic environment and accumulate in wildlife.
  5. The complex movement of contaminants in the Arctic environment and wildlife is now better understood.
  6. Current levels of POPs and mercury may be a risk for the health of some Arctic wildlife species.
  7. While exposure to most POPs and mercury is generally decreasing among Northerners, mercury remains a concern in some regions.
  8. Traditional/country foods continue to be important for maintaining a healthy diet for Northerners.
  9. Environmental exposure to contaminants in the Arctic has been linked to health effects in people.
  10. Continued international action is vital to reducing contaminant levels in the Arctic.

Future Directions of the Northern Contaminants Program: 

(adapted from Contaminants in Canada’s North: Summary for Policy Makers)

In terms of Environmental Monitoring and Research, the NCP will

  • continue to play a critical role in the detection of new chemical contaminants of concern to the Arctic and continuously review and refine its list of contaminants of concern.
  • enhance the measurement of long-term trends of mercury and POPs by filling gaps in geographic coverage.
  • carry out more research to understand the effects of climate change and predict their impacts on contaminant dynamics and ecosystem and human health risks.
  • expand community-based monitoring that builds scientific capacity in the North, and optimizes the use of traditional knowledge.

In terms of Human Health Research, Monitoring and Risk Assessment, the NCP will

  • address ongoing public health concerns related to contaminants and food safety, in partnership with territorial/regional health authorities by:
    • weighing the risks associated with exposure to POPs and mercury against the wide ranging benefits of consuming traditional/country foods, and
    • expanding monitoring of contaminant exposure among human populations across the North, and research on potential health effects in collaboration with Northern communities, to provide current information to public health officials

In terms of Communications and Outreach, the NCP will

  • communicate research results and information about contaminants and risk to Northerners in the context of broader environmental (e.g. climate change) and health messages. Timely and culturally sensitive messages will be developed and communicated in association with regional health authorities and other appropriate spokespeople; these communication initiatives will be evaluated for their effectiveness.
  • ensure that NCP data and information is effectively communicated to key international networks, such as AMAP, and the Global Monitoring Plans under the Stockholm and Minamata Conventions for the purpose of evaluating the effectiveness of global regulations.

2014-2015 Funded Projects
Project Title Principle Project Leader
Human Health
Development of Blood Guidance Values for Persistent Organic Pollutants for the Canadian Arctic L. Chan
Do country food nutrients protect against mercury toxicity and cardiometabolic diseases? Integrating data from cutting-edge science and mobilizing knowledge towards Nunavimmiut health P. Ayotte
Environmental contaminants, stress and behaviour: statistical analysis in late-adolescent Inuit from the Nunavik Child Cohort Study (NCCS), and in adult Inuit from the Inuit Health Survey P. Plusquellec
Lake Melville and Labrador Inuit: Understanding and projecting human health implications of exposure to local and long-range mercury sources T. Sheldon
Exposure to food chain contaminants in the Canadian Arctic: spatial and time trends P. Ayotte et al
Tukisinirlungniq: Understandings of the Risks and Benefits of Consuming Beluga in Arviat, NU S. Tagalik et al
Quantifying the effect of transient and permanent dietary transitions in the North on human exposure to persistent organic pollutants and mercury F. Wania and M. Curren
Genetic polymorphisms to improve interpretation of contaminant exposure and risk in Inuit N. Basu et al
Contaminant biomonitoring in the Dehcho Region: A pilot investigation of the links between contaminant exposure, nutritional status, and country food use B. Laird
Community Based Monitoring and Research
Mercury levels in food fish species in lakes used by Dehcho community members with a focus on choice and risk perception of eating traditional country food G. Low
Community-based monitoring of Arctic Char in Nunatsiavut: increasing capacity, building knowledge R. Laing
Paulatuk Beluga whales: health and local observational indicators D. Ruben
Tłı̨chǫ Aquatic Ecosystem Monitoring Program (TAEMP) J. Pellissey
Enhancing community-based monitoring of ecosystem changes in the ISR through the inclusion of local and traditional ecological knowledge indicators V. Gillman et al
Harvest monitoring of metal bioaccumulation at Kuujjuaraapik (Nunavik): Have levels changed 20 years after the Great Whale environmental assessment? R. Mickpegak and J. Chételat
Mercury in fish from Old Crow D. Frost
Environmental Monitoring and Research
Northern contaminants air monitoring: Organic pollutant measurement H. Hung
Mercury measurements at Alert, Nunavut, and Little Fox Lake, Yukon A. Steffen
Passive air sampling network for organic pollutants and mercury H. Hung and A. Steffen
Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants and metals in ringed seals from the Canadian Arctic D. Muir et al
Temporal and spatial trends of legacy and emerging organic and metal/elemental contaminants in Canadian polar bears R. Letcher
New and emerging persistent halogenated compounds in beluga whales from Sanikiluaq (Nunavut) G. Tomy
Up-date on mercury levels in Hendrickson Island and Sanikiluaq beluga G. Stern and L. Loseto
Temporal trends of contaminants in Arctic seabird eggs B. Braune
Temporal trends and spatial variations in persistent organic pollutants and metals in searun Arctic char from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut M. Evans and D. Muir
Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants and mercury in landlocked char in high Arctic lakes D. Muir et al
Spatial and long-term trends in persistent organic contaminants and metals in lake trout and burbot from the Northwest Territories M. Evans and D. Muir
Temporal trend studies of trace metals and halogenated organic contaminants (HOCs), including new and emerging persistent compounds, in Mackenzie River burbot, Fort Good Hope, NWT G. Stern
Trace metals and organohalogen contaminants in fish from selected Yukon lakes: A temporal and spatial study G. Stern
Arctic caribou contaminant monitoring program M. Gamberg
Community based seawater monitoring for organic contaminants and mercury in the Canadian Arctic D. Muir et al
A latitudinal investigation of ecosystem sensitivity to methylmercury bioaccumulation in Arctic fresh waters J. Chételat and M. Richardson
Spatial variation in Canadian Arctic prey fish communities and contaminant levels A. Fisk and M. Mckinney
Metal loading and retention in Arctic tundra lakes during spring runoff M. Richardson and J. Shirley
Polycyclic aromatic compounds, flame retardants and other persistent organic pollutants in Canadian Archipelago air, water and sediment L. Jantunen
Influence of climate warming on mercury dynamics in High Arctic lakes P. Drevnick
Winter atmospheric loadings and springtime runoff of mercury and perfluorinated chemicals to a pristine high Arctic watershed in Quttinirpaaq National Park, Northern Ellesmere Island, Nunavut V. St. Louis and D. Muir
Heavy Metal Contaminants in Caribou and Moose in the NWT B. Elkin
Communications, Capacity, and Outreach
Yukon AANDC regional office coordination 2014- 2015 P. Roach
Nunavut Environmental Contaminants Committee (NECC) L. Arsenault and R. Makkik
Nunavik Nutrition and Health Committee: coordinating and learning from contaminants research in Nunavik E. Labranche
Northern Contaminants Researcher: Increasing ownership of research development and implementation in the region while educating Nunatsiavummiut about contaminants in relation to Inuit health and wellbeing C. Webb
Coordination, participation and communication: Evolving Inuit Research Advisor responsibilities in Nunatsiavut for the benefit of Inuit and their communities C. Pamak
The current state of long range contaminants in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) S. O’Hara
Nunavik Inuit Research Advisor M. Barrett et al.
The Research Advisor. Increasing Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated’s social and cultural research coordination N. Obed and R. Makkik
Wildlife Contaminants Workshop – linking wildlife and human health through a hands-on workshop J. Shirley et al.
Synthesis of Mercury Research for the Sahtu Region (NWT) S. Montgomery
Program Coordination and Indigenous Partnerships
National Coordination and Administration of the Northern Contaminants Program, and Facilitation of International Action related to the Long-range Transport of Contaminants into the Arctic R. Shearer and S. Kalhok Bourque
Council of Yukon First Nations – Northern Contaminants Program Meetings B. Van Dijken
Dene Nation participation in Management Steering Committee and Northwest Territories Environmental Contaminants Committee R. Pangowish
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami NCP National Coordination E. Loring
Inuit Circumpolar Council – Canada Activities in Support of Circumpolar and Global Contaminant Instruments and Activities E. Kruemmel