Many individuals and families in Alaska rely on subsistence activities for food and nutrition. The warming climate is causing changes to our environments, which impact traditional food and water sources. Strong oceanic and atmospheric currents worldwide transport chemicals, pesticides and contaminants that are produced, used and disposed of at lower latitudes to the waters in the Arctic. These contaminants eventually enter the food chain and make their way into wildlife species that are our traditional food sources. All Arctic countries are affected by these contaminants, and are cooperating to monitor the most vulnerable state in human life: the pregnant mother and the developing infant. The warming climate has also resulted in changes in the range of traditional food wildlife, and the movement of new animal diseases that can be transmitted to hunters and consumers.
ANTHC’s Department of Community Environment and Health (CEH) has developed one human biomonitoring program and one wildlife biomonitoring program to address these issues:
Rural Alaska Monitoring Program (RAMP): July 2014 – June 2019
The Rural Alaska Monitoring Program is an EPA grant-funded monitoring program operated by ANTHC in partnership with Kawerak, Inc. and the communities of the Bering Strait region. RAMP developed sampling kits utilizing filter paper (FP) blood sampling kits to enable village hunters to sample blood from subsistence-hunted wildlife for the presence of antibodies to several wildlife infections that can be spread to hunters and consumers. RAMP partnered with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Wildlife Toxicology Laboratory (WTL), the Center for Alaska Native Health Research (CANHR), and Stable Isotope Laboratory (SIL). These three laboratories extended the utility of FP technology to include analysis of mercury, selenium, and stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. The techniques used in RAMP can be used by village residents to monitor trends in known wildlife diseases, detect new and emerging diseases, as well as changes in wildlife feeding and forage ecology. This information can equip villages to create adaptation strategies in hunting, food storage, and food preparation to reduce risk and to continue traditional hunting and consumption of traditional foods. These practices are critical to the Alaska Native culture, are economically sustainable, and have known population health benefits.
Maternal Organics Monitoring Study (MOMS): June 2009 – May 2015
ANTHC obtained EPA and CDC funding to investigate the contaminant and nutrient levels in pregnant mothers and their infants, and to investigate the benefits, and possible risks of the traditional diet. This program, called the Maternal Organics Monitoring Study (MOMS), sampled over 500 pregnant women from the Yukon/Kuskokwim Delta. The study showed that contaminant exposure in participating pregnant women is low compared to other circumpolar prenatal monitoring programs, and the trend in exposure decreased over the duration of the sampling period. Data from the MOMS study showed a decrease in traditional marine food intake that was associated with a decrease in maternal blood levels of vitamin D. This decrease was associated with a decrease in vitamin D in the blood of their newborn infant’s blood, and an increased risk of dental disease in the first years of life. Other health risks associated with low vitamin D levels in pregnancy in MOMS study participants are being analyzed, and may include gestational diabetes mellitus.