The Exposures in the Peace River Valley (EXPERIVA) study aims to thoroughly assess exposure to contaminants associated with fracking in Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in Northeastern British Columbia, and to evaluate the potential health effects on the developing fetus. Although Canada is the 4th largest producer of natural gas in the world, EXPERIVA is the only research group actively investigating the impacts of that industry on human health. Communities and First Nations in Northeastern British Columbia have raised concerns about the health effects associated with fracking. EXPERIVA is responding to community concerns by using a multifaceted approach that allows communities to gain information on the levels of contamination, gain access to public health experts, and contribute to study design and dissemination.
The research team has academic researchers, First Nations representatives and Elders, and local physicians. The principal investigators are Élyse Caron-Beaudoin (University of Toronto) and Marc-André Verner (Université de Montréal). The First Nations representatives and Elders include Treaty 8 Tribal Association, Chiefs and Councils of Saulteau, and West Moberly First Nations. And lastly, the local physicans involved are Northern Health, Chetwynd Medical Clinic, Nordlys Medical Clinic, Bloom pregnancy wellness midwifery clinic.
In EXPERIVA, community partners are playing a central role in co-creating the study design, supporting the recruitment and overseeing the results communication. To make sure the study design, ethics protocols and communication material are clear and culturally appropriate, First Nations members and local health care providers are part of an oversight committee in charge of evaluating all the aspects of the project. Together, researchers and communities developed a protocol for the disposal of the biological samples.
Chief Roland Willson from the West Moberly First Nation Council commented on the preliminary results of the study:
The preliminary results of EXPERIVA are showing that there might be higher exposure to volatile organic compounds and trace elements in pregnant women from Northeast British Columbia compared to the general Canadian population. Many of those contaminants are known for their toxicity on reproduction and fetal development.
The EXPERIVA project team is working to get the research results in the hands of the communities impacted by oil and gas development, so they can utilize scientific data in decision making about the industrial development in their territory. The sharing of data with vulnerable population is the first step towards implementing exposure mitigation strategies, if needed.