Lake Melville research

Researchers aboard a Nunatsiavut government vessel check out sediment samples taken from Lake Melville, in Labrador. (CBC)

The Nunatsiavut government is partnering with scientists from Memorial University, Harvard and ArcticNet to monitor the water quality in Lake Melville for potential changes during the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. 

Once the dam for the hydroelectric megaproject is built, methyl mercury levels in the Churchill River, which flows into Lake Melville, will rise. Methyl mercury can affect human health.  

Experts have been taking sediment samples from Lake Melville to test mercury levels before the dam is built.    
Nalcor officials said the company is doing its own baseline studies, and taking samples of seal and fish. Company officials said they don't think toxic levels of mercury will extend beyond the mouth of the Churchill River.

Tom Sheldon, Nunatsiavut's Director of Environment, said he's worried about what Nalcor may find.  

"One of our real concerns with the approach taken to date by Nalcor and by the Fisheries and Oceans, if mercury levels do increase, the only way they can deal with that at that point is to say to a Labrador Inuk, that's eating from Lake Melville, potentially, to not eat that country food or eat less of that country food," said Sheldon. 

Inuit eat fish from Lake Melville

The majority of Lake Melville is Labrador Inuit settlement area, with more than 2,600 Inuit living along its shore, and contaminated water could impact the Inuit's constitutional right to fishing. 

Patricia Kemuksigak, Nunatsiavut's health minister, said she's worried about the extent of the change. 

"We're quite concerned, once the river is dammed, we may not be able to eat the fish, we may not be able to eat the seal, and that will cause a large impact on food security for our people."

The Nunatsiavut government is unsure how its findings will be used, but for now, officials said they believe their work is filling a critical research gap.