Testing the Waters: NSRIT Funding Helps Saint Mary’s Enviro Scientist Tackle Toxic Levels of Heavy Metal

Dr. Linda Campbell, an environmental scientist at Saint Mary’s University, recently established a lab to accurately measure and map trace elements in the environment. (Photo Courtesy of Saint Mary's University)

Dr. Linda Campbell, an environmental scientist at Saint Mary’s University, recently established a lab to accurately measure and map trace elements in the environment. (Photo Courtesy of Saint Mary’s University)

Scientists have known for some time about mercury contamination in ocean fish; alarm bells went off when they discovered some of North America’s highest recorded levels of mercury in freshwater yellow perch and common loons from certain parts of Nova Scotia.

“Mercury is a global issue,” says Dr. Linda Campbell, an environmental scientist at Saint Mary’s University. “Understanding its impacts—including the risk to wildlife and human ecosystem health—needs to start at the local level.”

In 2013, Dr. Campbell’s Clean Trace-Metal Environmental Analytical Laboratory (CTEAL) at Saint Mary’s received $122,000 in funding from Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust and an additional $122,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Leaders Opportunity Fund.

“This support enabled us to hire student researchers and technicians, and to create a laboratory environment where small samples are analyzed with significantly reduced risk of external contamination,” says Dr. Campbell. “As a direct result of CTEAL’s clean room infrastructure, we have received other funding for projects that include assessing mercury concentrations in endangered bat populations across Atlantic Canada; investigating metal patterns in human teeth, hair and nails from Iraq; and mapping mercury concentrations in sport fish across Nova Scotia.”

Dr. Campbell’s research will shed light on how mercury and other potentially toxic metal contaminants are distributed throughout across Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada, and how this compares to trends across Canada and around the world. As well, the data she gathers will provide provincial and federal governments with important insights for monitoring environmental contamination issues and designing cost-effective management programs.

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