Current Problems

Health (18-24)

Environment and Health

December 17, 2019

Canada’s National Observer – Repeated failure by government authorities to conduct a comprehensive baseline health study as recommended by the Alberta Cancer Board (supported by the province’s governing health authority, Alberta Health Services) in 2009. In Fort Chipewyan a community of roughly 1,200 people, the study found, you would expect to see 39 cases of cancer. Instead, it found 51 cases, a difference of 30.7 per cent. The Athabaska River flows through Canada’s oil patch, giving rise to the theory that the oil-and-gas industry is responsible for the illnesses, having poisoned people for years by contaminating the environment. Government bodies and researchers have challenged that theory, leading to a call for a new more conclusive health study that could provide real answers.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation pooled their resources to fund research. With some additional funding from Health Canada, a three-year, $1-million study was led by Stephane McLachlan, a professor at the University of Manitoba. His findings released in 2014 measured contaminants not only in water but also in beavers, ducks, fish, moose and muskrats — animals consumed as part of a traditional diet for those who continue to live off the land in the Peace-Athabasca Delta. He concluded that the animals contained high concentrations of pollutants such as carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, cadmium and selenium. All of these are by-products of extracting and upgrading bitumen. Arsenic in particular has been linked to increased risk of biliary tract cancer.