Long-Range Transport of Information: Are Arctic Residents Getting the Message about Contaminants?

  • Heather Myers
  • Chris Furgal
Keywords: environmental contaminants, health, country/traditional foods, risk, communication, comprehension, environmental health, evaluation, women of childbearing age


Since contaminants were discovered in Arctic human populations well over two decades ago, northern residents have been receiving information about the nature of such contaminants in the environment and their possible effects on human and wildlife health. The information offered has evolved with attempts to improve its sensitivity and appropriateness and to assure northern peoples that traditional foods are still a healthy choice. A survey conducted in four Nunavut and Labrador communities to evaluate the degree to which residents had been exposed to and comprehended information regarding contaminants in country food found that the information has not been as broadly received as expected. In particular, women of childbearing age—a key population group—do not appear to have understood or to be able to recall messages previously disseminated. We argue the enormous effort put into communication on contaminants is not achieving the desired result: the statements and actions of Arctic people do not reflect the importance of the information passed on through communication programs. Characteristics of risk communication, as well as those of Arctic communities, may be influencing how information is received and interpreted. Much recent dissemination of information about country foods in the Canadian Arctic has emphasized the nutritional value of such foods. Should it become necessary to “nuance” this message in the future, regarding certain species that are being consumed or certain population groups with higher risk of contaminant exposure, it appears that more effective communication modes and messages will need to be developed.