Environmental health research is the study of the effects of the environment--both natural and built--on our health. Understanding the links between environmental effects and human health is essential for planning and developing public health prevention and adaptation strategies.
The Environmental Health Research Program focuses specifically on research of environmental risks that affect the health of First Nations people and Inuit; these risks pose a particular threat to Aboriginal Peoples whose lives and culture are fundamentally intertwined with the natural environment.
The program supports First Nations and Inuit in their efforts to conduct community-based research, monitoring, surveillance, laboratory and field studies related to the physical, chemical, biological and radiological risks to human health. These activities are aimed at increasing First Nations and Inuit participation in research and studies relating to the role of environmental hazards in illnesses or in health problems.
Community-based research in First Nations and Inuit communities is a central aspect of the program's work. Community-based research incorporates both conventional science and local knowledge as communities select research topics that are relevant and beneficial to them. Community-based research balances the interests, benefits and responsibilities between the community and the science institution.
Community-based research also enhances the capacity of First Nations and Inuit communities to work with governments, agencies, academia and other organizations to incorporate both scientific and Traditional Knowledge in environmental health studies and outreach materials.
The program's collaborative analysis ofenvironmental health research contributes to international research initiatives, such as those of the World Health Organization, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the North American Commission of Environmental Cooperation.
Learn more about the program's key elements:
Most of us are aware that we are exposed to environmental chemicals in our daily lives; chemicals that make their way into our bodies through the air we breathe, the food and water we eat and drink, and through our skin.
Biomonitoring is increasingly being used as an effective method for measuring and monitoring the level of contaminants in human populations. It measures chemicals in our body, through the analysis of blood, urine, breast milk, hair or nail samples.
The First Nations Biomonitoring Initiative was developed to establish baseline levels, (i.e., what are 'normal' levels), for specific environmental chemicals in First Nations peoples living on reserve. Participants are tested for exposure to contaminants such as trace metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, etc.), pesticides, PCBs, bisphenol-A, and brominated flame retardants, among others.
This information will direct future research to better understand the cause-effect relationship that some of these newer, less understood chemicals have to human health. It also complements the national Canadian Health Measures Survey that is representative of the Canadian population but excludes First Nations on reserve and Inuit. Over time, the information obtained will allow First Nations to track trends of exposure levels in First Nations populations, and allow comparisons to the Canadian general population and other subpopulations.
This Initiative, run in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, is the first survey of to be carried out for First Nations people across Canada that focuses on such a breadth of environmental chemicals.
Climate is rapidly changing in Canada's north. Melting sea and lake ice, degrading permafrost and unpredictable weather are affecting Northerners' ability to find and/or hunt traditional foods, to access safe drinking water and to maintain their homes and communities. Warmer temperatures have led to increases in spoilage of traditional foods, infectious diseases, injuries, sunburns and skin rashes. They have also led to a release of contaminants previously locked up in permafrost and ice. Climate change is a human health issue as well as an environmental one.
This initiative assists northern First Nation and Inuit communities in developing research proposals to identify and respond to the health impacts associated with climate change using both formal science and traditional knowledge. Results from these projects are used to design meaningful health adaptation plans and tools, and to enhance decision-making regarding health adaptation in the North.
For more information on this program, including how to obtain a copy of Health Canada's Climate Change and Health Adaptation Program for Northern First Nations and Inuit Communities 2013-2014 Funding Application Guide and it's associated appendices, please contact Megan Duncan at: firstname.lastname@example.org, by telephone at (613) 957-6698.
Increasing contaminant levels in traditional food sources have made an impact on the health of First Nations. This section carries out research on the chemical safety of traditional foods and the impacts of contaminants (both persistent and emerging) on the health of First Nations and Inuit. It is a co-investigator in the First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study, a ground-breaking ten-year project with the Assembly of First Nations, the University of Northern British Columbia and the UniversitÚ de MontrÚal. It was designed as a national scope study to develop a portrait of the total diets of First Nations in Canada on a region-by-region basis.
This section also supports the Northern Contaminants Program in partnership with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada.
Health Canada works in partnership with more than 600 First Nations communities south of 60 ° to ensure drinking water is monitored according to the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
This section analyses data on the effectiveness of the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan and maintains a Drinking Water Advisory database that helps track water quality issues in First Nations communities in the provinces.
It also funds community-based research projects on drinking water quality in First Nations communities through the Drinking Water Quality Program, which is administered in partnership with the First Nations University of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations. Projects can help communities take corrective action on drinking water issues through measures such as source water protection plans or identifying contaminant sources.
Other research activities on drinking water help to establish baseline information, to identify knowledge gaps and establish research priorities that improve the evidence-base for public health programs and policies regarding First Nations drinking water.
The Environmental Health Guides for First Nations and Inuit empower audiences with information to improve their health and to reduce their exposure to indoor environmental contamination that can impact their health.
The laboratory provides support to First Nations and Inuit environmental health research programs through the analysis of persistent environmental pollutants in human tissue (hair, urine, and blood) as well as in fish tissue samples. The laboratory is accredited (ISO/IEC 17025:2005 Standard) for analysis of total and inorganic mercury in hair, urine, and blood methods by the Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation Inc. (CALA). The laboratory also provides an international proficiency testing program--the Mercury in Hair Interlaboratory Comparison Program.
The laboratory has become a training base for the First Nations university students and staff from other laboratories that participate in First Nations-related research programs. It also provides expertise in quality assurance to other sections of the program.
The quality of our indoor air is as important to human health as the quality of our outdoor air. The Indoor Air initiative studies indoor exposure to contaminants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), micro particles less than 2.5 microns, and tobacco smoke in Inuit and First Nations homes. It also assesses the impact of these indoor air pollutants on respiratory and cardiovascular health outcomes.
Environmental health contributes to the overall health and well-being of people. It is important for First Nations communities to know what contaminants are present in their environment, the extent of their exposure to these contaminants, and the potential risk associated with their traditional lifestyles, and foods.
Research and Monitoring supports the following activities for First Nations and Inuit communities to do community-based research:
Other research initiatives that Research and Monitoring provided funding to include:
Research and Monitoring also works with Health Canada staff on the risk assessment and risk communication of consumption of traditional foods in order to promote the importance and benefits of a traditional diet, while also providing information on the potentials risks associated with the consumption of those traditional foods affected by environmental contaminants.