The Yellowknife Health Effects Monitoring Program (YKHEMP) is a human study that measures arsenic and other chemicals of potential concern such as cadmium, lead, antimony, manganese and vanadium, in the local population in Yellowknife, Ndılǫ and Dettah.

YKHEMP is a long-term project that will continue during the Giant Mine cleanup to ensure it does not negatively affect the health of the communities. The study is led by Dr. Laurie Chan, a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Toxicology and Environmental Health at the University of Ottawa, and governed by a Health Effects Monitoring Program Advisory Committee, which meets once a month. 

How will the Program be Done?

Over 2,000 residents from Dettah, Ndılǫ and Yellowknife including members of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and North Slave Métis Alliance, between the ages of 3 to 79 and Elders, were invited to participate in the program to form the baseline in 2017 and 2018. Participants were selected either through statistically-supported random sampling (Yellowknife residents) or voluntary participation (Yellowknives Dene and North Slave Métis Alliance). Yellowknife residents not randomly selected were also welcome to participate as volunteers.

Participants were asked to sign a consent form before providing biological samples of urine, toenail clippings and saliva, as well they were asked to have their medical records reviewed by the research team for the past 5 years. Baseline data collection was completed by spring 2018, and for the first time provides a snapshot of people’s exposure to arsenic and other metals as well as their health, for Yellowknife, Ndılǫ and Dettah, NT at that time.

Ongoing monitoring of the population will continue with children in 2022-23, and children and adults in 2027-28. Data collected from future testing will always be compared to the 2017-2018 baseline results. 

The main components included:

  • Lifestyle questionnaire
  • Food frequency questionnaire
  • Biological samples of toenails, urine and saliva (by swabbing your cheek)
  • Other tests, as deemed necessary by our stakeholders and through public consultations
Other components included:

  • Review of medical records for past 5 years
  • A medical questionnaire and brief medical exam with a nurse (Yellowknives Dene First Nation)

Current scientific methods can only measure participants’ current levels of arsenic and other contaminants. This program will not be able to determine how much exposure to contaminants people may have had in the past, for example when Giant mine was in operation.

Precautions will be in place to protect individuals’ privacy and personal information.

Why a Health Effects Monitoring Program?

In 2014, the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board completed its seven-year assessment of the Giant Mine Remediation Project to address public concerns about the impact the mine’s clean-up activities may have on the local populations’ health.

One of the requirements by the Review Board was to design and implement a Health Effects Monitoring Program in Ndılǫ, Dettah and Yellowknife. The purpose of the program is to make sure the remediation activities that will take place at Giant Mine will not have a negative impact on people’s health.

Specifically, the program will establish current or baseline levels of arsenic exposure among residents in Ndılǫ, Dettah, and Yellowknife before remediation work begins. Then, during remediation, new monitoring results will be compared to the baseline to ensure participants’ arsenic levels are not increasing because of work being done at Giant Mine. 

Benefits of Participating in the Program

The Health Effects Monitoring Program will provide participants with an opportunity to find out if there is increased exposure to arsenic and other metals of concern as a result of remediation activities at Giant Mine. Participants will receive their personal results in a letter on the levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead in their bodies. The overall results will also contribute to a bigger picture of local exposure to contaminants in and around Dettah, Ndılǫ, and Yellowknife.

Summary results will be shared at annual community meetings starting in 2019.

Our Partners

Principal Investigator

Dr. Laurie Chan from the University of Ottawa is leading the implementation of the Health Effects Monitoring Program. Dr. Chan has extensive experience in carrying out health studies in the North and working closely with northern and Indigenous communities.

Health Effects Monitoring Program Advisory Committee (HEMPAC)

In order to engage with a variety of affected stakeholders, a Health Effects Monitoring Program Advisory Committee (HEMPAC) was created as a mechanism for member groups to contribute to the development and implementation of the monitoring program by utilizing their health expertise and knowledge of regional and community level issues.

HEMPAC meets once a month and consists of the following representatives:

  • Government of Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources
  • Government of Northwest Territories Department of Health and Social Services
  • Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada
  • Health Canada
  • Yellowknives Dene First Nation
  • North Slave Métis Alliance
  • Giant Mine Oversight Board
  • City of Yellowknife

With additional support from:

  • Institute for Circumpolar Health Research

The Mandate of HEMPAC

To provide advice and make recommendations to the Principal Investigator in the development and implementation of the Health Effects Monitoring Program.

Specific responsibilities of the Advisory Committee include but are not limited to:

  • Provide technical expertise and advice in the development and implementation of the program.
  • Provide community perspective, expertise, advice and traditional knowledge in the development and implementation of the program.
  • Monitor the implementation of the program and provide input into refinement opportunities.
  • Provide advice on proposed communications for the program.


The project will also enlist the help of other experts and professionals as well as part-time researchers to aid in its implementation including:

  • Dr. Ken Reimer of the Royal Military College as an external expert reviewer.
  • Dr. Harriet Phillips of Can North, project lead of the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment study.
  • Sharen Roland of Génome Québec will aid in DNA analysis.
  • Rossana Manriquez and Jean Dumais of Statistics-Canada, will aid in the development of a sampling methodology.
  • Kimberly Fairman of the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research will help finalize data sharing agreements and access to medical records.

About the Giant Mine Remediation Project

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The Giant Mine is located within the boundaries of the City of Yellowknife, where it operated from 1948 to 2004. The site reverted to the Crown when owner Royal Oaks Mine went into receivership in 1999.

At present, the mine is considered one of the most contaminated sites in Canada. To address concerns about arsenic and other contamination, the Giant Mine Remediation Project was established. The main objectives of the Giant Mine Remediation project are to minimize public and worker health and safety risks; minimize the release of contaminants from the site to the surrounding environment; remediate the site in a manner that instills public confidence; and, implement an approach that is cost-effective and robust over the long term.

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (previously Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) and the Government of the Northwest Territories are the co-proponents of the Giant Mine Remediation Project.

Community Consultations

The Health Effects Monitoring Program for the Giant Mine Remediation Project held community consultations in Yellowknife and Dettah in the Northwest Territories on April 26 and 27, 2017. The consultations included Yellowknife residents, North Slave Métis Alliance members, and Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

The purpose of the consultations was to inform about the program, discuss proposed study protocols, and provide the opportunity for people to provide feedback, and bring up any issues of concern. You will find the information we shared at those meetings in the presentations found here.

A total of approximately 100 people attended the community consultations, and we received some excellent feedback and questions.

Results from the April 2017 consultations can be found here. The results contain key issues brought up by the communities with an outline of action steps already taken or to be taken by the research team.

Thank you to everyone who participated!

NSMA Member Meeting
NSMA Member Meeting
YK Residents
YK Residents