Giant Mine Health Effects Monitoring Program
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Purpose of the study
The Health Effects Monitoring Program (health study) is taking place to establish current (baseline) levels of arsenic and other contaminants of concern in people's bodies so it can be compared to levels during, and after, the cleanup of the Giant Mine site. If results show that remediation activities may be increasing exposure, the Project team will take action. This will help to ensure the remediation activities don't negatively impact people's health.
This study is led by the University of Ottawa's Laurie Chan, PhD, with advice and input from the Health Effect Monitoring Program Advisory Committee.
Some results available
Some of the results of the study are now available. They demonstrate that, overall, residents of Yellowknife, Ndilo, and Dettah are within a range of exposure to arsenic that is similar to the rest of Canada. While we did see slightly 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), these results are still well below the reference level derived from the Canadian Health Measure Survey of 21 µg/L. The study team has made their results to date available its website.
Next steps include looking at the other information collected to tell the research team more about the baseline results and what they mean. This additional information collected included:
- a dietary survey
- DNA samples
- medical records
- more toenail samples for further analysis
The results of this additional analysis will be presented to communities in 2020.
The health study team will be conducting the next round of sampling for children starting in 2022 and again in 2027, and adults in 2027, when the remediation work is happening. Those results will be compared to the baseline results of the first phase of the study. The study team is implementing precautions to protect individual privacy and personal information, and meets the requirements of Measure 9 of the Mackenzie Valley Review Board's Report of Environmental Assessment (PDF).
What the program involved
The health study measures current levels of arsenic and other contaminants through biological sampling, such as collecting:
- toenail clippings
- a cheek swab
These samples were collected from residents of Yellowknife, Ndilo, and Dettah. The study also reviewed medical records for Yellowknife and North Slave Métis residents, reviewing information collected in a medical questionnaire, and the results of a brief medical exam with Yellowknives Dene First Nation members, as requested by their Advisory Committee representatives.
The study saw approximately 900 people participate over 2 years through statistically-supported random sampling to ensure the results represent the entire community. Approximately 900 additional people participated through the volunteer process.
Scientific methods available today can only measure levels of arsenic and other contaminants in the body for up to about 3 months before the sample was provided. This means this study cannot determine how much exposure to contaminants people had in the past. However, the study is looking at other factors that could affect people's contaminant levels, such as:
- drinking water sources
- fish and local produce consumption
- lifestyle choices, such as smoking
- DNA markers for arsenic processing
The study team will only be looking at the parts of study participants' DNA that will tell them about how individuals process arsenic. As per the next steps noted above, further information related to the above will be presented in community sessions in 2020.
Participation in previous health studies
The study also has access to results from historical studies related to arsenic and health. If current participants grant the study's team permission to view these records, the results can be compared to their current exposure levels. Participants will receive copies of this comparison. The team can also advise previous study participants who do not want to participate in the current study as to how they can access their records.
Anyone was able to volunteer to participate in this study by contacting the University of Ottawa team directly, so long as they:
- were 3 years of age or older
- had lived in Yellowknife, Dettah, or Ndilo for at least one year.
People involved in the study
Laurie Chan is leading this study. He is a professor of Biology at the University of Ottawa and holds the Canada Research Chair in Toxicology and Environmental Health. He is also a member of the Independent Peer Review Panel for the Remediation Project and is familiar with Giant Mine-related issues.
Chan has a great deal of experience with health studies in the North and working closely with northern and Indigenous communities.
In addition, a Health Effects Monitoring Program advisory committee was created in September 2016. The committee provides advice to Chan and his team members as they develop and implement the monitoring program. Members provide health expertise as well as community and regional knowledge. The committee includes representatives from:
- Giant Mine Remediation Project
- Health Canada
- Government of the Northwest Territories, Health and Social Services
- Giant Mine Oversight Board
- City of Yellowknife
- North Slave Métis Alliance
- Yellowknives Dene First Nation
The committee meets monthly, and provides advice to Chan and his team throughout the program.
Public participation and engagement
Public engagement helps the project team incorporate public concerns into formal studies. While the team may not be able to address every concern, we will do our best to respond to them in a meaningful way.
Chan and his team have a website with information and resources, including upcoming events and activities. You can visit Health Effects Monitoring Program in Yellowknife, Ndilo and Dettah.
In addition, the project team will continue to update residents about the health effects monitoring via the Giant Mine e-newsletter.
You can also stay informed by:
- attending community information sessions and stakeholder meetings
- following us on Twitter @GiantMine
- subscribing to our email list by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
Other health-related studies and links
In addition to health effects monitoring, the project team has two other health-related studies:
- an updated Giant Mine Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment (HHERA), which has been completed
- a stress study, which is in development
All 3 health-related studies are linked but have different objectives. They are being conducted separately. The project team will identify links and shared information between the three studies.
Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment
The risk assessment estimated the nature and probability of effects on people and the environment when exposed to chemicals in contaminated environmental media. The potential sources of contamination include:
- country and locally-grown foods
The risk assessment determined:
- the current level of exposure of people and animals to chemicals from the Giant Mine site
- if exposure to any chemical was at a level of concern
- if this exposure will change during and after remediation
The results of the assessment allowed the project team to improve the closure and reclamation plan. The HHERA meets the requirements of Measure 10 of the Mackenzie Valley Review Board's Report of Environmental Assessment. Canada North Environmental Services (CanNorth) conducted the study.
The scope of the stress study is still under development. However, it is expected to:
- evaluate indirect effects on health from stress related to the possibility of arsenic exposure
- include consultation with affected community members (in focus groups)
Participants will help develop a survey to measure and analyze stress effects. Wilfred Laurier University's Ketan Shankardass, who has a PhD in epidemiology will lead this study, with support from Sue Moodie, who holds a PhD in public health. Moodie will be acting as an advisor with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.