PFAS in the Canadian Arctic: Identifying exposure sources and health effects in Nunavik, Canada

Join CHE-Alaska for a webinar on PFAS contamination of subsistence foods in Arctic Indigenous populations.

Perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs), a subset of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are a group of chemicals used in industrial production, firefighting foams and food packaging materials. These chemicals are used for commercial and residential applications and repel water and oil. Because of their toxicity and environmental persistence, the occurrence and transportation of PFAS has been a concern all over the world. Tragically, PFAS are also harmful to human health, including being associated with cancer, heart disease, birth defects, liver disease, and decreased immunity.

Our guest speaker is Dr. Amira Aker, who has conducted community-based participatory research with her Inuit colleagues to identify exposure sources and health effects of PFAS in Nunavik, Quebec. PFAAs travel North on oceanic and atmospheric currents and bioaccumulate, become concentrated inside the bodies of living things, in wildlife species consumed by Inuit populations living in the Arctic, including marine mammals, fish and caribou. This causes high concentrations of PFAAs in wildlife essential to the cultural identity and subsistence of Arctic Indigenous populations.

Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the tribes, and academic research partners have documented long-term environmental and health consequences of PFAS contamination in traditional foods of the Yupik people of Sivuqaq (St. Lawrence Island). Arctic Indigenous Peoples have some of the highest levels of persistent pollutants of any population on earth.

Dr. Aker’s broader research interests include the intersection between environmental chemical exposure and social factors on women’s health.

Featured speakers

Dr. Aker is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Université Laval and the Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec. She is an environmental epidemiologist and her research centers around protecting systematically and structurally excluded populations from contaminants of emerging concern, with a particular interest in Arctic communities.

She is currently studying the exposure sources of perfluoroalkyl substances and their health effects on cardiometabolic outcomes and immunological function in Inuit communities in Nunavik. Dr. Aker received her PhD in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto Scarborough focused on chronic disease.

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