History of inuit community exposure to lead, cadmium, and mercury in sewage lake sediments

Mark H. Hermanson, James R. Brozowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Exposure to lead, cadmium, and mercury is known to be high in many arctic Inuit communities. These metals are emitted from industrial and urban sources, are distributed by long-range atmospheric transport to remote regions, and are found in Inuit country foods. Current community exposure to these metals can be measured in food, but feces and urine are also excellent indicators of total exposure from ingestion and inhalation because a high percentage of each metal is excreted. Bulk domestic sewage or its residue in a waste treatment system is a good substitute measure. Domestic waste treatment systems that accumulate metals in sediment provide an accurate historical record of changes in ingestion or inhalation. We collected sediment cores from an arctic lake used for facultative domestic sewage treatment to identify the history of community exposure to Pb, Cd, and Hg. Cores were dated and fluxes were measured for each metal. A nearby lake was sampled to measure combined background and atmospheric inputs, which were subtracted from sewage lake data. Pb, Cd, and Hg inputs from sewage grew rapidly after the onset of waste disposal in the late 1960s and exceeded the rate of population growth in the contributing community from 1970 to 1990. The daily per-person Pb input in 1990 (720,000 ng/person per day) exceeded the tolerable daily intake level. The Cd input (48,000 ng/person per day) and Hg input (19,000 ng/person per day) were below the respective TDI levels at the time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1308-1312
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Cadmium
  • Canada
  • Exposure
  • History
  • Inuit
  • Lakes
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Sediments
  • Sewage


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