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Informing debate

Researchers contribute to new Nunatsiavut Government science report


By Jeff Green

University Research Professor Dr. Trevor Bell is the academic program lead for a new science report on Lake Melville that in part examines the human health risks associated with methylmercury exposure in Labrador from the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

Lake Melville: Our Environment, Our Health was released by the Nunatsiavut Government during a news conference on April 18 in St. John’s. Lake Melville is an important subarctic estuary in central Labrador that is home to several Labrador Inuit communities.

Collaborative research

A professor in the Department of Geography in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Bell collaborated with researchers from the University of Manitoba as well as Harvard University in this independent four-year study.

“I hope the success of this project encourages other Memorial University researchers to engage with communities to address their priority issues.” —Dr. Trevor Bell

In addition to Dr. Bell, Memorial researchers Drs. Brad deYoung and Entcho Demirov, physics and physical oceanography, and Dr. Joel Finnis, geography, are authors of report chapters. The report covers oceanography, climate, sea ice, sediments and organics of Lake Melville; however, the topic of most concern to Inuit is methylmercury.

“The report indicates there will likely be significant bioaccumulation of methylmercury in the Lake Melville food web and because of their reliance on fish, seals and other wild foods for their diet, consequently hundreds of Labrador Inuit living on Lake Melville may be exposed to methylmercury above regulatory guidelines,” said Dr. Bell.

Dr. Bell says the work of the research team is incredibly valuable because little was known about the Lake Melville system prior to the study. Researchers were the first to collect field data on many aspects of the estuary.

Publically engaged research

“The results of the research provide the scientific data for evidence-based decision making by the regulators for the Muskrat Falls project,” he noted. “It also addressed important issues of concern for Labrador Inuit – methylmercury exposure, sea ice travel safety, climate change impacts, to name just a few.”

“I hope the success of this project encourages other Memorial University researchers to engage with communities to address their priority issues,” added Dr. Bell. “It produces both world-class science and fills important knowledge gaps to support community sustainability and well-being.”

In addition to Memorial University, the project was supported by ArcticNet, a Network of Centres of Excellence of Canada; the Oak Arctic Marine Fund, an initiative under the Tides Canada Foundation; the National Science Foundation; the University of Manitoba; and the federal government.

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