Risk Communication in Nunavik: The Case of Mercury, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Primary author: Alyssa Mayeda
Co-author(s): Amanda Boyd

Primary college/unit: IREACH
Campus: Seattle


Contaminants in the Arctic are a risk to Inuit health. Most Arctic populations continue to be exposed to higher levels of environmental contaminants compared to many other global populations. Much of this exposure is due to consuming country foods with higher levels of contaminants, such as mercury or polychlorinated biphenyls. Consequently, it is important to understand how to effectively communicate the benefits of consuming country foods including marine mammals and fish that contain high levels of healthy elements such as omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to providing information about the risks associated with contaminant exposure. This case study evaluates the effectiveness of the messages created from the Nunavik Child Development Study (NCDS). The NCDS was initiated in 1996 to examine the negative effects of prenatal exposure to contaminants and the benefits of consuming country foods on infant and child development. Results from the NCDS were presented in 2011 to residents of Nunavik, Canada. In this study, we examine if any behavioral changes were made by community members as a result of the advisories. Interviews, using both qualitative and quantitative questions, were held with 112 Inuit residents in Nunavik. Results demonstrate that while some people were aware of the NCDS health messages, there were still many who were not aware of the advisories, and even more who reported they would not change their food consumption behaviors. We discuss the challenges associated with communication about environmental contaminants and the need for future research on health risk communication in the Arctic.