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News Article | November 10, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

In a new study, Harvard University researchers find over 90 percent of potential new Canadian hydroelectric projects are likely to increase concentrations of the neurotoxin methylmercury in food webs near indigenous communities. The research forecasts potential human health impacts of hydroelectric projects and identifies areas where mitigation efforts, such as removing the top layer of soil before flooding, would be most helpful. The works uses factors such as soil carbon and reservoir design to forecast methylmercury increases for 22 hydroelectric reservoirs under consideration or construction in Canada. "The human and ecological impacts associated with increased methylmercury exposures from flooding for hydroelectric projects have only been understood retrospectively, after the damage is done," said Elsie Sunderland, the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School for Public Health and senior author of the study. "This paper establishes a prospective framework for forecasting the impacts of proposed hydroelectric development on local communities." The research is published in Environmental Science & Technology. Microbes convert naturally occurring mercury in soils into potent methylmercury when land is flooded, such as when dams are built for hydroelectric projects. The methylmercury moves into the water and animals, magnifying as it moves up the food chain. This makes the toxin especially dangerous for indigenous communities living near hydroelectric projects because they tend to have diets rich in local fish, birds and marine mammals such as seals. To understand how methylmercury impacts human populations, the Harvard team studied three Inuit communities downstream from the proposed Muskrat Falls hydroelectric facility in Labrador. The project will require the flooding of land bordering the Churchill River, upstream from an estuarine fjord called Lake Melville. Sunderland and her team have been working in this region since 2012, conducting a multi-pronged investigation into how methylmercury accumulates in the ecosystem and how it may impact communities who rely on the ecosystem for food and resources. To build the framework, the team collected extensive measurements of how different forms of mercury cycle through this ecosystem and formalized a mathematical model to forecast post-flooding methylmercury levels in the Churchill River and downstream estuary. They then used measurements of levels of methylmercury in the food web and unique chemical tracers for where each food item, such as salmon or trout, obtained its methylmercury to project levels of the toxin in different species of fish and wildlife. Finally, the team studied the diets and baseline methylmercury exposures of more than 1000 Inuit who live on Lake Melville's shore to understand how changes in their food would affect individual exposures. "After collecting all of this information, we can rapidly see how all these people's exposures will change with the increased methylmercury levels in local wildlife and who will be most affected in this population," said Ryan Calder, first author of the paper and graduate student in the Sunderland Lab. The team found that while there were large differences in exposure to methylmercury across the population, on average exposure to the toxin will double after the upstream area is flooded. While some people are still below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's reference dose for methylmercury, any increase in exposure is associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease and neurodevelopmental delays among children The people at the highest risk of mercury exposure are those who eat locally caught wildlife nearly every day, especially river fish, where the increase of methylmercury is expected to be highest. "For population that relies heavily on locally caught food, the increase in exposure is drastic," said Calder. "We see substantial fractions of this population whose pre-flooding methylmercury exposure is at or below regulatory thresholds and post-flooding are pushed way above them without mitigation measures. What our study allows is time to consider mitigation measures that will reduce these potential exposures for the most vulnerable people " Pregnant women and children are especially at risk for health impacts of methylmercury. The team applied the prospective framework to the 22 other proposed hydroelectric sites in Canada, plugging in publically available, site-specific data. They found that 11 sites had equal or greater methylmercury concentrations relative to Muskrat Falls. "Our research suggests that low impact hydroelectric projects are possible with careful site selection. Mitigation measures such as removing topsoil that provides the substrate for methylation in these ecosystems may need to be considered in areas where forecasted exposures are high," said Sunderland. "This research opens the door to anticipating environmental impacts before the damage is done and moving forward with green energy alternatives in manner that does not impose an unfair burden on nearby indigenous communities." The research was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, Canada's Northern Contaminants Program, ArcticNet Inc., Tides Canada's Oak Arctic Marine Fund Program, the Nunatsiavut Government and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.


News Article | November 10, 2016
Site: www.greencarcongress.com

« Compact pilot plant for solar to liquid fuels production | Main | Novozymes launches world’s first biological foam control for sugarcane ethanol; up to 20% cost reduction » In a new study, Harvard University researchers found more than 90% of potential new Canadian hydroelectric projects are likely to increase concentrations of the neurotoxin methylmercury (MeHg) in food webs near indigenous communities. The research is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology. The research forecasts potential human health impacts of hydroelectric projects and identifies areas where mitigation efforts, such as removing the top layer of soil before flooding, would be most helpful. The works uses factors such as soil carbon and reservoir design to forecast methylmercury increases for 22 hydroelectric reservoirs under consideration or construction in Canada. Sunderland is the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School for Public Health. Developing Canadian hydroelectric resources is a key component of North American plans for meeting future energy demands with a low carbon footprint. Microbes convert naturally occurring mercury in soils into methylmercury in newly flooded soils—such as when dams are built for hydroelectric projects—by degradation of labile organic carbon and associated changes in geochemical conditions. The methylmercury moves into the water and animals, magnifying as it moves up the food chain. This makes the toxin especially dangerous for indigenous communities living near hydroelectric projects because they tend to have diets rich in local fish, birds and marine mammals such as seals. All 22 Canadian hydroelectric facilities being considered for near-term development are located within 100 km of indigenous communities. Using a facility in Labrador, Canada (Muskrat Falls) with planned completion in 2017, the team probabilistically modeled peak MeHg enrichment relative to measured baseline conditions in the river to be impounded, downstream estuary, locally harvested fish, birds and seals, and three Inuit communities. Sunderland and her team have been working in this region since 2012, conducting a multi-pronged investigation into how methylmercury accumulates in the ecosystem and how it may impact communities who rely on the ecosystem for food and resources. To build the framework, the team collected extensive measurements of how different forms of mercury cycle through this ecosystem and formalized a mathematical model to forecast post-flooding methylmercury levels in the Churchill River and downstream estuary. They then used measurements of levels of methylmercury in the food web and unique chemical tracers for where each food item, such as salmon or trout, obtained its methylmercury to project levels of the toxin in different species of fish and wildlife. Finally, the team studied the diets and baseline methylmercury exposures of more than 1000 Inuit who live on Lake Melville’s shore to understand how changes in their food would affect individual exposures. While some people are still below the US Environmental Protection Agency’s reference dose for methylmercury, any increase in exposure is associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease and neurodevelopmental delays among children. Pregnant women and children are especially at risk for health impacts of methylmercury. The people at the highest risk of mercury exposure are those who eat locally caught wildlife nearly every day, especially river fish, where the increase of methylmercury is expected to be highest. The team applied the prospective framework to the 22 other proposed hydroelectric sites in Canada, plugging in publicly available, site-specific data. They found that 11 sites had equal or greater methylmercury concentrations relative to Muskrat Falls. The paper was coauthored by Amina Schartup, Miling Li, Amelia Valberg, and Prentiss H. Balcom. The research was supported by the US National Science Foundation, Canada’s Northern Contaminants Program, ArcticNet Inc., Tides Canada’s Oak Arctic Marine Fund Program, the Nunatsiavut Government and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.


News Article | November 10, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Hydroelectricity is a renewable energy, and the facilities that produce it give off less greenhouse gases than other power plants. But damming bodies of water can lead to the production and release of methylmercury from the soil. This toxic compound can move up the food chain and potentially harm human health. In the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers quantify the possible increases in methylmercury exposures for indigenous communities living near planned facilities. Bacteria can convert mercury, which occurs naturally in the soil, to methylmercury when the land is flooded, such as when dams are built for hydroelectric power generation. Unlike mercury, however, methylmercury moves into the food chain. People exposed to the chemical through their diet face increased cardiovascular risks, and children with high prenatal exposure can develop attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, neurological abnormalities and other symptoms. Because a new hydroelectric facility is scheduled to fill a reservoir on the Churchill River at Muskrat Falls in Labrador, Canada, any day now, Ryan S. D. Calder and colleagues wanted to evaluate its potential impact on nearby communities. The researchers combined direct measurements and modeling of future environmental concentrations with data collected from local residents and from other flooded regions. Modeling projections indicate that the flooding at Muskrat Falls likely will increase methylmercury 10-fold in the dammed river and 2.6-fold in surface waters downstream. Methylmercury concentrations in locally caught fish, birds and seals -- which nearby Inuit populations use as a source of food -- likely will increase up to 10-fold. In these communities, the researchers concluded, more than half the women of childbearing age and young children will be exposed to enough methylmercury to harm health. In addition, the researchers extrapolated the data to Canada's other planned hydroelectric facilities, which are all within about 60 miles of indigenous communities. The model forecast even higher methylmercury concentrations for 11 of these other hydropower sites. The authors acknowledge funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Canada's Northern Contaminants Program, ArcticNet Inc., Tides Canada's Oak Arctic Marine Fund Program, the Nunatsiavut Government and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The abstract that accompanies this study is available here. The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With nearly 157,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society, contact newsroom@acs.org.


News Article | April 20, 2016
Site: motherboard.vice.com

It’s a tale as old as time: energy company proposes big project, energy company says it will have no effects on the local population, local population says it’ll actually poison their land, and their people, for decades. Classic! The energy company in question here is Nalcor Energy, and the project is the multi-billion dollar Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam in Labrador, Newfoundland, which got the green light from the provincial government in 2012. Flooding the reservoir to build the dam will release toxic methylmercury into the area around nearby Lake Melville, but Nalcor argues that it will be diluted enough to have no effect on the local Inuit population. But a new study, commissioned by the aboriginal Nunatsiavut Government and completed by scientists from Memorial University, Harvard, and the University of Manitoba, says that the toxic mercury released during the dam’s construction will have highly detrimental effects on the area’s wildlife and the aboriginal people who live off of it. More than 200 individuals (and their children and grandchildren) could be affected by the toxic mercury, the study’s authors concluded. Additionally, 66 percent of the community in nearby Rigolet will be pushed above acceptable mercury levels, per the most conservative US Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, according to the report. Nalcor’s more positive assessment of the dam’s effects was ”false and based on incorrect assumptions,” a summary of the study for policymakers states. “The findings from epidemiological studies show that [mercury] is associated with lifelong neurocognitive deficits,” Harvard epidemiologist and study co-author Elsie Sunderland told me. “This isn’t something that you would see visibly. It’s basically a direct impact on their brain development, so they wouldn’t realize the potential they would have without this kind of exposure.” One of the main indicators of this kind of mercury exposure is children with lowered IQs, Sunderland said. Gilbert Bennett, vice-president of the Nalcor project that oversees the Muskrat Falls dam, said in a prepared statement sent to Motherboard that "we do not predict that creation of the Muskrat Falls reservoir will heighten risk to people in Lake Melville." “We will carefully review the assumptions, approaches, parameters and outcomes of the study by Nunatsiavut Government, and any implications of the report on the project’s ongoing environmental effects monitoring programs,” the statement reads. A spokesperson for Newfoundland and Labrador's minister of environment and conservation Perry Trimper said the minister has yet to make a decision on the environmental impacts of the Muskrat Falls project, and will take the recent study's findings into consideration. Watch more from Motherboard: Oil and Water According to Sunderland, contamination of the region would take just 120 hours, and the effects would persist for decades. “We are looking at multiple generations of exposure to higher levels of methylmercury,” Sunderland said. So, how did Nalcor not catch this, if these findings are right? According to Sunderland, Nalcor simply did not take the needed measurements, and instead just assumed that the mercury would be diluted. If Nalcor had done the work, they would have seen that this is flatly untrue, she contended. “I don’t see this as a difference in opinion, or a difference in findings,” said Sunderland. “That’s a misrepresentation, because they didn’t have any findings. They didn’t study the physical characteristics of the estuary.” Nalcor declined to comment directly on this allegation. To offset the impacts of releasing methylmercury into the environment, the researchers suggest completely clearing the area of trees, vegetation, and topsoil. Even then, however, the report suggests around 30 Inuit people will be negatively affected by the high levels of mercury. “Removal of soil from the reservoir was not considered during the environmental assessment and therefore is not part of our construction plans,” Bennett said in his statement. The flooding of the reservoir to build the Muskrat Falls dam is scheduled to take place later this year, and the dam is set to be constructed by 2017.


Organ J.,Dalhousie University | Castleden H.,Dalhousie University | Castleden H.,Queen's University | Furgal C.,Dalhousie University | And 3 more authors.
Health and Place | Year: 2014

Rapid socio-cultural, economic, and environmental changes are challenging wild food access and thus food security for Inuit in the Canadian Arctic. In response to the continued value and practice of harvesting wild foods, communities are establishing "wild food support" initiatives. This study evaluated how one such initiative, a community freezer, in Nain, Nunatsiavut supported wild food access for community members. Data were collected through: interviews and focus groups with users, freezer managers, and active harvesters; participant observation; and document analysis. Results indicated that the community freezer supported socio-cultural, economic and local access to wild foods. However, there were issues associated with supply, dependency, social exclusion, and tension between feasibility and traditional values and practices. Communities, governments, and policymakers are urged to consider social and physical location as factors when investing in and monitoring such initiatives. The Nunatsiavut Government and the Nain Inuit Community Government have since worked together to modify this early freezer initiative due, in part, to this study's findings. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

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