Fort Chipewyan map

Fort Chipewyan, a hamlet in northern Alberta that is located downstream of the Alberta oilsands, has been at the centre of concerns over whether high cancer rates are linked to oilsands development. (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers)

A long-awaited health study suggesting the Alberta oilsands are in part to blame for some health concerns in the downstream community of Fort Chipewyan will be released later Monday.

An executive summary of the study's findings was released last week but the full report will be made public in Edmonton at 1:30 MT at a press conference at the Downtown Courtyard Marriott.

The study is based on the work of residents of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Mikisew Cree First Nation and scientists from the University of Manitoba, who measured the extent of heavy metals and other contaminants in country foods harvested by indigenous people in the region.

"The findings would seem to link [oilsands] development with what they found, especially the heavy metals in food," said John O'Connor, a family physician who practiced in Fort Chipewyan for several years and first raised concerns about a possible link between cancer rates and oilsands development in 2006.

O'Connor will discuss the study's key findings at Monday's press conference.

Dr. Stéphane McLachlan

University of Manitoba researcher Stéphane McLachlan was part of the community-based study examining the Alberta oilsands and health concerns in Fort Chipewyan. (University of Manitoba)

The conclusions are expected to be controversial, in part because of the study's methodology, which some see as not scientifically rigorous enough to support the findings. The researchers admit in the executive summary that the outcomes of the study "have been shaped and controlled throughout" by the two First Nations groups that were funding it.

Additional funding was also provided by the National First Nations Environmental Contaminants Program, Health Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Heavy metals found in wild food

Fort Chipewyan, or Fort Chip as it is known, is a community of about 1,300 people on the northwest shore of Lake Athabasca and one of the most northern communities in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Early results from the Fort Chipewyan research found high levels of mercury and arsenic in wild food in the area. 

The study suggests that high levels of cancer in Fort Chip are "significantly and positively associated" with employment in the oilsands and consumption of traditional foods, such as moose and fish, that are harvested in the area, according to a news release.

O'Connor has been pressing the Alberta government to conduct a comprehensive health study on communities downstream from the oilsands for several years.

In April, the government released its own report on the high incidence of two kinds of cancer in Fort Chipewyan. It concluded environmental contamination was not a factor.