Mercury levels in fish could help guide development in the Ring of Fire.
Laurentian University researcher Gretchen Lescord said she hopes by tracking the current levels in the Attawapiskat watershed, it can be used as a baseline to measure impacts when the Ring of Fire is developed.
The provincial and federal governments are in the process of studying whether it's feasible to build an all-season road that could lead to development in the Ring of Fire.
"Later, in 10, 20 years, when development is happening, we can look back that the levels that we measure today and see what is affecting mercury," she said.
"It's a really valuable comparison point."
Currently, much of the element ends up in the far north because of pollution that drifts over from Asia.
"As you burn coal, it separates the rock [from] the mercury, [which] will be put into the atmosphere," Lescord said.
"Once it's up there, it's extremely stable, so it actually can be carried all around the world before it's deposited in rain and snow. That's just because of the wind patterns and things like that."
Lescord hopes to have her research completed by 2018.