The winner of this year’s Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research from the W. Garfield Weston Foundation is Dr. Derek Muir.
Working at Environment Canada, Muir is recognized as one of the first to discover high concentrations of chemical contaminants in Arctic food chains, and his work has led to local, national and global policies to manage toxic chemicals, such as mercury.
Muir and other scientists have discovered that toxic substances are mainly carried to the Arctic from far away and include the widespread presence of a stain protection chemical from a group of chemicals known as polyfluorinated compounds, used in furniture, carpets, textiles, non-stick cookware, paper coatings, and firefighting foams. Over more than 35 years, Muir has uncovered how these pollutants end up in Arctic plants and fish and work their way up the food chain to seals, whales, polar bears, and people. They can cause health issues like cancer and hormonal abnormalities. Because the diet of Arctic residents includes polar bears and other marine mammals, the impact of these contaminants is especially detrimental there.
Muir’s $100,000 prize includes $50,000 in cash and a matching amount he can use for a research fellowship position to support ongoing work. He plans to use that research money to hire a younger researcher to look at freshwater quality and possible contaminants in lakes fed by melting permafrost in the Arctic.