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Wastewater treatment and public health in Nunavut: a microbial risk assessment framework for the Canadian Arctic

Abstract

Wastewater management in Canadian Arctic communities is influenced by several geographical factors including climate, remoteness, population size, and local food-harvesting practices. Most communities use trucked collection services and basic treatment systems, which are capable of only low-level pathogen removal. These systems are typically reliant solely on natural environmental processes for treatment and make use of existing lagoons, wetlands, and bays. They are operated in a manner such that partially treated wastewater still containing potentially hazardous microorganisms is released into the terrestrial and aquatic environment at random times. Northern communities rely heavily on their local surroundings as a source of food, drinking water, and recreation, thus creating the possibility of human exposure to wastewater effluent. Human exposure to microbial hazards present in municipal wastewater can lead to acute gastrointestinal illness or more severe disease. Although estimating the actual disease burdens associated with wastewater exposures in Arctic communities is challenging, waterborne- and sanitation-related illness is believed to be comparatively higher than in other parts of Canada. This review offers a conceptual framework and evaluation of current knowledge to enable the first microbial risk assessment of exposure scenarios associated with food-harvesting and recreational activities in Arctic communities, where simplified wastewater systems are being operated.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Community and Government Services as well as communities across the territory for their assistance and support. Additionally, the first author acknowledges the Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments, the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, the Northern Scientific Training Program, and Dalhousie University for their support. And finally, all authors thank colleagues at Dalhousie University’s Centre for Water Resources Studies for their assistance.

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Correspondence to Kiley Daley.

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This research program is registered with the Nunavut Research Institute under the following title: “Northern Municipal Wastewater Effluent Discharge Quality Objectives in the Context of Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Strategy and Environment Canada’s Wastewater Systems Effluent”. It has also been approved by the Dalhousie University Research Ethics Board.

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This study was partially supported by research funding from the Government of Nunavut. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Government of Nunavut.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Responsible editor: Gerald Thouand

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Daley, K., Jamieson, R., Rainham, D. et al. Wastewater treatment and public health in Nunavut: a microbial risk assessment framework for the Canadian Arctic. Environ Sci Pollut Res 25, 32860–32872 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-8566-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-8566-8

Keywords

  • Conceptual model
  • Environmental exposures
  • Indigenous health
  • Inuit
  • Quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA)
  • Rural health
  • Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)
  • Wastewater