Baker Lake spearheads study
Contaminants project raises awareness

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (July 05/99) - Janet Nungnik can hardly contain her excitement when she talks about the Baker Lake Contaminants Project she helped co-ordinate.

Thanks to funding, consulting and scientific assistance from the Northern Contaminants Program, which is administered by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Baker Lake has been able to compile baseline data on contaminants in their environment.

"We circled Baker Lake taking samples. We took samples from the bottom of the lake, we checked our drinking water, air and the food we eat," Nungnik said.

"Our elders pushed for this project. They were very concerned. People have always been concerned about the wildlife. That's how the project started."

The entire community was involved in the gathering of information, from hunters and elders to hamlet officials. Nungnik is currently working on a technological report on the project findings that will be produced both in English and Inuktituk.

The scientific research that was done has been sent to McGill University's Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment. They will determine if the data indicates any potential long-term health risks.

Nungnik recently communicated the results of the findings to the community. She was pleased to be able to report that although many contaminants -- such as lead, radionuclides and PCBs were recorded -- they were at very low levels.

"The question our people wanted answered was 'Are we eating wildlife that is contaminated?' The answer was that the levels were low, which is comforting," Nungnik said.

She said the data collected by the project team is already being used as a teaching aid in the community high school.

"It's been a real learning experience for the Baker Lake Research Team. This information will be a resource we'll use for the future because we do share our food with other communities," Nungnik said.

"We also know that Nunavut is going to grow and there's going to be many new mines in the future. We now know the levels of contaminants here and we'll be able to compare that to contaminant figures after development occurs."

DIAND contaminants manager Carole Mills said there are currently three other similar projects on the go in Fort Resolution, Lutsel K'e and Marion Lake.

She said because they are initiated and led by the communities, the results are more readily accepted.

"The results will be believed by the residents because the projects are community driven," Mills said.

"The communities selected the species to be studied, locations and effectively designed the studies to answer the questions they had about contaminants in their environment."

She said the results of these projects are "extremely important" because they contribute to a larger body of scientific knowledge being compiled on contaminants in the North.

"Community projects help us understand and get a better picture of contaminants in the Arctic," Mills said.

"It's important for us to know if contaminant levels are increasing or decreasing and the communities are the best people to monitor this."