Because they cover large areas and are constantly on the move, Caribou herds can tell us a lot about how far contaminants are spread throughout the Arctic and how concentrated they are in different populations. As part of the Caribou Contaminant Monitoring Program, researchers are studying contaminants in Canadian Arctic caribou to determine if they remain safe and healthy food choices for Northerners and to see if contaminant levels are changing over time
Two caribou herds—the Porcupine herd in the Yukon and the Qamanirjuaq herd in Nunavut—have been studied since the project began, with one or two more Canadian herds added each year. In 2021/22, caribou on Baffin Island (Nunavut) were included in the study, in collaboration with the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association. The Leaf River caribou herd (Quebec) was also included in 2021/22, in collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan and the Nunavik Nutrition and Health Committee.
As part of the study, twenty animals from each herd are analyzed for the presence of 38 elements, including arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. The animals’ livers are analyzed for a range of compounds that can reveal whether they’ve been exposed to manmade or industry elements like Teflon and fire retardants.