Toxins and Tradition: The Impact of Food-Chain Contamination on the Inuit of Northern Quebec


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Abstract

The dependence of Quebec Inuit on their traditional diet, known as "country food," is complicated by the presence of toxins in the northern food chain.Dr. Eric Dewailly's unexpected finding of high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Inuit women's breast milk prompted years of research into this troubling public health issue. In his recent study of heavy-metal contaminants Dewailly found that mercury and organic chlorine compounds such as PCBs were the major toxins in Inuit blood samples. Although not present at levels high enough to endanger adults, these contaminants may have adverse developmental effects on fetuses and breast-fed infants. Although country food is a major source of contaminants, it contains important nutrients that counter some of the toxic effects. Dewailly's research indicates that the nutritional, economic and cultural benefits of country food far outweigh the risks.

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