Arsenic, mercury higher in northern Alberta wild food

Early results from a community-based study in Fort Chipewyan, Alta. show that local country food contains high levels of contaminants, ‘enough that there should be caution, but for the most part it’s safe.’
Lake Athabasca seen from the shore of Fort Chipewyan. A community-based study in the area found high levels of arsenic, mercury and cancer causing agents in local wild food but one of the researchers involved says 'for the most part it's safe.' (Bruce Maclean)

Early results from a new study in Northern Alberta show that local animals people use for food contain high levels of contaminants, but are still safe to eat.

The research looked at the link between the oil and gas industry and the community's health in Fort Chipewyan.

University of Manitoba researcher Stéphane McLachlan was part of the community-based study.

“We found that there are high levels of arsenic and mercury in parts of the wildlife in the kidneys and livers, enough that there should be caution, but for the most part its safe.”

Many community members have already learned to live with that kind of answer.

“I still live on the Athabasca River,” says Alice Rigney, who’s survived cancer, which she and others in Fort Chipewyan worry is linked to living in a community downstream from the oilsands.

“I don’t drink the water,” Rigney says. “But I collect medicines from the land and we eat animals from the land. Does it continue up the food chain? I don’t know.”

The study also found high levels of cancer causing agents. 

The results were presented for the first time to the study's participants and the community last week over a number of gatherings.

More information will be released soon. This is just the second phase of three in the study. The final report is set to be made public in the next two or three weeks.