Human Health

Wild food is an important part of the diet for many Yukon residents, particularly First Nations, who traditionally harvest caribou, moose, fish, waterfowl, small game and many plants. Although there has been extensive research on contaminants in those wild foods and some dietary surveys have been conducted in the past, relatively little is known about people’s level of contaminant exposure in the territory.

Why is this important?

Contaminants in Caribou

Previous and ongoing studies have found that cadmium and mercury levels in caribou kidneys and livers from across the circumpolar north, are higher than in domestic animals grown for food consumption. This prompted a health advisory from Yukon Health and Social Services, based on a health assessment from Health Canada. A maximum intake of 24 kidneys or 12 livers was recommended per person per year for the Porcupine caribou.

Contaminants in Fish

Average mercury concentrations in lake trout from Lake Laberge and Kusawa Lake are close to the limit for commercial sale, but little is known about mercury levels in trout from other lakes or in other fish species. Although caribou and fish are important food sources for Yukoners, people’s current exposures to contaminants in the territory is largely unknown.

What are we doing?

Old Crow Pilot Project

As a first step to address this issue, a pilot project was begun in Old Crow in 2017/18 by the Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation in collaboration with Dr. Brian Laird from the University of Waterloo and Mary Gamberg, a research scientist from Whitehorse. This project began by fine-tuning dietary and health messages surveys for the residents of Old Crow through focus groups, and then administering the surveys in February-March 2018. Analyses of these surveys will give us information regarding which traditional foods people are eating, as well as how much and how often.

Next steps

A proposal has been submitted to NCP for 2018/19 to continue the work in Old Crow by moving into a biomonitoring phase. This will mirror work conducted in Nunavut and Nunavik, and more recently by Dr. Laird in the Dehcho and Sahtú regions of NWT. This project will measure a range of contaminants (PFASs, other persistent organic pollutants, mercury, cadmium lead and other metals) in human hair, blood and urine. To better learn about the balance of benefits and risks, important nutrients found in traditional foods will also be measured. Samples will be given on a voluntary basis by residents of Old Crow, and will be taken by a team of researchers, including a local nurse. Results of the study will be delivered to the community as a whole and each participant will be given their individual results, along with an opportunity to discuss them with the research team.

We are also in discussion with a range of health experts to explore options for making this type of research available to other Yukon communities.

What do we know?

The data from the surveys are currently being analyzed. We will update this site with results as soon as they are available.