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TORONTO – Indigenous and remote communities that depend on fish for their livelihoods shouldn’t worry about mercury levels in their food, as the benefits of eating the meal outweigh the risks, according to a new study.

The study, published recently in the journal Environmental Research, examined 443 blood samples and 276 hair samples from residents of nine communities in the Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories and found that exposure to mercury ” may be low even when sometimes present at high levels. , According to a press release.

The study was part of a larger “biomonitoring project” to address concerns within these communities about potentially harmful containments in their traditional food sources, such as fish.

“Previously, high levels of mercury were found in certain species of fish in certain lakes and therefore communities wanted to know if these sometimes high levels in fish also meant that they were high in humans,” Sara Packull -McCormick, a doctoral candidate in the School of Public Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo, said in a press release.

“The good news is that overall exposure in the communities we studied was low. This means that the benefits of consuming these foods tend to outweigh the risks, which is important for these communities because eating fish has nutritional, cultural and economic benefits.

According to Health Canada, mercury exposure is associated with “altered central and peripheral nervous system functions” and can lead to decreased IQ and delayed walking and speech in young children. Adults, on the other hand, can experience personality changes, vision changes, and memory loss.

In 2017, the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) reported that mercury levels in Canadians were “well below” Canadian guidelines, but the survey did not include participants from any of the Canadian territories or Indigenous peoples living on reserves.

Brian Laird, a professor in the School of Public Health Sciences and the study’s lead investigator, said this latest research should help communities not included in the CHMS.

“This study is important because it provides these communities with the information they need to guide their decision-making,” he said.

“Mercury can pose serious health risks to people, but these communities now have a baseline to see what changes will occur in the future, especially considering what might be caused by the change. climate. “

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