Assessment of dietary exposure to trace metals in Baffin Inuit food

Environ Health Perspect. 1995 Jul-Aug;103(7-8):740-6. doi: 10.1289/ehp.95103740.


Chronic metal toxicity is a concern in the Canadian Arctic because of the findings of high metal levels in wildlife animals and the fact that traditional food constitutes a major component of the diet of indigenous peoples. We examined exposure to trace metals through traditional food resources for Inuit living in the community of Qikiqtarjuaq on Baffin Island in the eastern Arctic. Mercury, cadmium, and lead were determined in local food resources as normally prepared and eaten. Elevated concentrations of mercury ( > 50 micrograms/100 g) were found in ringed seal liver, narwhal mattak, beluga meat, and beluga mattak, and relatively high concentrations of cadmium and lead ( > 100 micrograms/100 g) were found in ringed seal liver, mussels, and kelp. Quantified dietary recalls taken seasonally reflected normal consumption patterns of these food resources by adult men and women ( > 20 years old) and children (3-12 years old). Based on traditional food consumption, the average daily intake levels of total mercury for both adults (65 micrograms for women and 97 micrograms for men) and children (38 micrograms) were higher than the Canadian average value (16 micrograms). The average weekly intake of mercury for all age groups exceeded the intake guidelines (5.0 micrograms/kg/day) established by the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants. The primary foods that contributed to metal intake for the Baffin Inuit were ringed seal meat, caribou meat, and kelp. We review the superior nutritional benefits and potential health risks of traditional food items and implications for monitoring metal contents of food, clinical symptoms, and food use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cadmium / administration & dosage
  • Cadmium / analysis*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Inuit*
  • Lead / administration & dosage
  • Lead / analysis*
  • Male
  • Meat / analysis
  • Mercury / administration & dosage
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Northwest Territories
  • Seals, Earless


  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Mercury