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.