Dr. Laurie Chan and his team from the University of Ottawa are pleased to announce that the first phase of the Yellowknife Health Effects Monitoring Program (YKHEMP) is complete, giving residents of Dettah, Ndilo and Yellowknife a comprehensive baseline picture of the level of arsenic exposure and other metals for the first time.
Having achieved this primary goal, the YKHEMP will help ensure the Giant Mine Remediation Project does not negatively affect the health of the community in the course of its activities.
During their study, Dr. Chan and his team measured arsenic concentrations in urine and toenail samples collected from participants. Lead and cadmium concentrations were also measured in the urine samples. With over 2000 participants, the results obtained by Dr. Chan’s team allow a direct comparison with the Canadian general population results collected in the Canadian Health Measures Survey.
“The results of the study demonstrate that, overall, residents of Yellowknife, Ndilo, and Dettah are within a similar range of exposure to arsenic to the rest of Canada,” explained Dr. Chan. “While we did see somewhat higher average levels of exposure in children (6.6 µg/L for random sampling and 7.2 µg/L for volunteers) compared to the adult population (5.4 µg/L for random sampling and 5.7 µg/L for volunteers) and the children of the Canadian population (5.4 µg/L), these results are still well below the reference level derived from the Canadian Health Measure Survey of 21 µg/L.”
The study also looked to establish baseline level of exposure using toenail samples, which allow for a longer point-in-time comparison than urine sampling can establish. As there are currently no guidelines for arsenic in toenails, increased support is offered to the individuals who had higher levels of arsenic in their toenail samples, based on the recommendations of the NWT’s Chief Public Health Officer. The Chief Public Health Officer, as well as other health advisors from the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Department of Health and Social Services and from Health Canada, have been actively involved on the study’s Advisory Committee since it was launched in 2017.
Establishing this baseline was crucial to the accurate monitoring of contaminant exposure in the years to come. Arsenic occurs naturally in the Yellowknife area because of the local geological formations, and this means the YKHEMP study currently cannot distinguish whether recent arsenic exposures come from natural sources, dietary sources, or from the former mines. The study will be repeated every five years to follow the trend of exposure and investigate the potential association with general population health.
The summary results will be shared with the public during three community meetings with three different population groups (Yellowknife general population, North Slave Métis Alliance and Yellowknife Dene First Nation) between May 14th and May 16th, 2019.
For media inquiries:
Media Relations Officer