Sara Packull-McCormick


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Hair to blood mercury concentration ratios and a retrospective hair segmental mercury analysis in the Northwest Territories, Canada
Sara Packull-McCormick, Mylène Ratelle, Christina Lam, Jean Napenas, Michèle Bouchard, Heidi K. Swanson, Brian Laird
Environmental Research, Volume 203

Concentrations of total mercury were measured in blood and hair samples collected as part of a human biomonitoring project conducted in First Nations communities of the Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories, Canada. Hair (n = 443) and blood (n = 276) samples were obtained from six communities in the Dehcho region and three communities in the Sahtú region of the Mackenzie Valley. The aim of this paper was to calculate hair to blood mercury ratios (for matched samples) and determine if: 1) ratios differed significantly between the two regions; 2) ratios differed from the 250:1 ratio proposed by the WHO; and, 3) point estimates of hair to blood mercury ratios could be used to estimate blood mercury concentrations. In addition, this paper aims to determine if there were seasonal patterns in hair mercury concentrations in these regions and if so, if patterns were related to among-season variability in fish consumption. The majority of mercury levels in hair and blood were below relevant health-based guidance values. The geometric mean hair (most recent segment) to blood mercury ratio (stratified by region) was 619:1 for the Dehcho region and 1220:1 for the Sahtú region. Mean log-transformed hair to blood mercury ratios were statistically significantly different between the two regions. Hair to blood ratios calculated in this study were far higher (2-5 times higher) than those typically reported in the literature and there was a large amount of inter-individual variation in calculated ratios (range: 114:1 to 4290:1). Using the 250:1 ratio derived by the World Health Organisation to estimate blood mercury concentrations from hair mercury concentrations would substantially over-estimate blood mercury concentrations in the studied regions. However, geometric mean site-specific hair to blood mercury ratios can provide estimates of measures of central tendency for blood mercury concentrations from hair mercury concentrations at a population level. Mercury concentrations were determined in segments of long hair samples to examine exposure of participants to mercury over the past year. Hair segments were assigned to six time periods and the highest hair mercury concentrations were generally observed in hair segments that aligned with September/October and November/December, whereas the lowest hair mercury concentrations were aligned with March/April and May/June. Mean log-transformed hair mercury concentrations were statistically significantly different between time periods. Between time periods (e.g., September/October vs. March/April), the geometric mean mercury concentration in hair differed by up to 0.22 μg/g, and the upper margins of mercury exposure (e.g., 95th percentile of hair mercury) varied by up to 0.86 μg/g. Results from self-reported fish consumption frequency questionnaires (subset of participants; n = 170) showed total fish intake peaked in late summer, decreased during the winter, and then increased during the spring. Visual assessment of results indicated that mean hair mercury concentrations followed this same seasonal pattern. Results from mixed effects models, however, indicated that variability in hair mercury concentrations among time periods was not best explained by total fish consumption frequency. Instead, seasonal trends in hair mercury concentrations may be more related to the consumption of specific fish species (rather than total wild-harvested fish in general). Future work should examine whether seasonal changes in the consumption of specific fish species are associated with seasonal changes in hair mercury concentrations.


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Human biomonitoring of metals in sub-Arctic Dene communities of the Northwest Territories, Canada
Mylène Ratelle, Sara Packull-McCormick, Michèle Bouchard, Shannon E. Majowicz, Brian Laird
Environmental Research, Volume 190

A human biomonitoring project investigating environmental exposures to metals from hair, blood and urine samples was implemented in the Northwest Territories, Canada, between January 2016 and March 2018. This study reports the metal biomarker levels from nine Dene communities located in the Dehcho and Sahtú regions to identify contaminants of interest. Levels of metals in the urine (n = 198), blood (n = 276) and hair (n = 443) samples were generally similar to those seen in other biomonitoring studies in Canada, but lead levels in blood (GM = 16 μg/L; 95th percentile = 71 μg/L) and urine (GM = 0.59 μg/L, 0.69 μg/g of creatinine; 95th percentile = 4.2 μg/L, 4.0 μg/g of creatinine) were higher than those observed in the Canadian Health Measure Survey (CHMS, cycles 2 and 5). Hair mercury (but not blood mercury) appeared higher than observed in participants from the CHMS cycle 5. The vast majority of participants had biomarker levels below the biomonitoring guidance values established for mercury and lead. Based on a comparative analysis of biomarker statistics relative to a nationally-representative survey, metals and essential trace elements of particular interest for follow-up research include: lead, manganese, mercury, and selenium. This project provided baseline biomarker levels in participating regions, which is essential to track changes in the future, and identify the contaminants to prioritize for further investigation of exposure determinants. • A biomonitoring project was implemented in nine Dene communities in 2016–2018. • Urine, blood and hair samples were collected from the Dehcho and Sahtú regions. • Most metals were at similar levels to those in national studies. • Blood lead levels appeared particularly high compared to national levels. • This biomonitoring baseline data will inform environmental monitoring initiatives.

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Food frequency questionnaire assessing traditional food consumption in Dene/Métis communities, Northwest Territories, Canada
Mylène Ratelle, Kelly Skinner, Sara Packull-McCormick, Brian Laird
International Journal of Circumpolar Health, Volume 79, Issue 1

Food Frequency Questionnaires (FFQ) can be used to document food consumption and to estimate the intake of contaminants for Indigenous populations. The objective of this project was to refine and i...


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Implementation of human biomonitoring in the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories, Canada (2016–2017)
Mylène Ratelle, Kelly Skinner, Matthew Laird, Shannon E. Majowicz, Danielle Brandow, Sara Packull-McCormick, Michèle Bouchard, Denis Dieme, Ken D. Stark, Juan J. Aristizabal Henao, Rhona M. Hanning, Brian Laird
Archives of Public Health, Volume 76, Issue 1

Human biomonitoring represents an important tool for health risk assessment, supporting the characterization of contaminant exposure and nutrient status. In communities where country foods (locally harvested foods: land animals, fish, birds, plants) are integrated in the daily diet, as is the case in remote northern regions where food security is a challenge, such foods can potentially be a significant route of contaminant exposure. To assess this issue, a biomonitoring project was implemented among Dene/Métis communities of the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories, Canada.Participants completed dietary surveys (i.e., a food frequency questionnaire and 24-h recall) to estimate food consumption patterns as well as a Health Messages Survey to evaluate the awareness and perception of contaminants and consumption notices. Biological sampling of hair, urine and blood was conducted. Toxic metals (e.g., mercury, lead, cadmium), essential metals (e.g., copper, nickel, zinc), fatty acids, and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) were measured in samples.The levels of contaminants in blood, hair and urine for the majority of participants were below the available guidance values for mercury, cadmium, lead and uranium. However, from the 279 participants, approximately 2% were invited to provide follow up samples, mainly for elevated mercury level. Also, at the population level, blood lead (GM: 11 μg/L) and blood cadmium (GM: 0.53 μg/L) were slightly above the Canadian Health Measures Survey data. Therefore, although country foods occasionally contain elevated levels of particular contaminants, human exposures to these metals remained similar to those seen in the Canadian general population. In addition, dietary data showed the importance and diversity of country foods across participating communities, with the consumption of an average of 5.1% of total calories from wild-harvested country foods.This project completed in the Mackenzie Valley of the Northwest Territories fills a data gap across other biomonitoring studies in Canada as it integrates community results, will support stakeholders in the development of public health strategies, and will inform environmental health issue prioritization.