CURRENT PROJECTS

Hydraulic fracturing and health

Hydraulic fracturing typically involves the drilling of wells vertically and then horizontally in the natural gas reserve, and the injection of large volume of fracking fluid (water, sand and various chemicals) to fracture the rock formation, freeing the trapped natural gas. Northeastern British Columbia is an area of intensive unconventional natural gas exploitation by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The region sits on an important source of natural gas, the Montney Formation. Approximately 30,000 wells have been drilled so far in Northeastern British Columbia. Information on impacts of hydraulic fracturing activity is limited, but recent literature highlighted the risk of environmental contamination. Some chemicals used or associated with hydraulic fracturing may contaminate the soil by accidental spills, leaks, or during disposal of hydraulic fracturing fluids. It is also known that hydraulic fracturing operations can release volatile organic compounds such as benzene, as well as trace elements naturally occurring in the rock formation. Many of these chemicals are known or suspected reproductive and development toxicants, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and respiratory irritants.

 

Communities and First Nations in Northeastern British Columbia raised concerns about the health effects associated with this industry. To answer the concerns of the communities regarding hydraulic fracturing, we have developed multiple research projects.

Gestational exposure to chemicals related to hydraulic fracturing and their endocrine disrupting potential in Northeastern British Columbia: the EXPERIVA study

EXPERIVA is a transdisciplinary project combining exposure assessment, toxicological and sociological approaches. As part of the study, 85 pregnant women living in Northeastern British Columbia were recruited in 2019. The participants provided urine, hair and nails samples. They also installed a passive air sampler in their residence, and we collected tap water samples. 

 

The EXPERIVA study aims to:

1) Assess exposure to volatile organic compounds and trace elements in these 85 pregnant women

2) Assess the endocrine disruption of environmentally-relevant concentrations of volatile organic compounds and trace elements using cellular models of fetal development

3) Explore the associations between the density and proximity of hydraulic fracturing wells and exposure levels, and between exposure levels and birth outcomes

4) Explore the social inequities related to exposure to contaminants associated with hydraulic fracturing

Principal Investigators:

Marc-André Verner (Université de Montréal - School of Public Health)

Élyse Caron-Beaudoin (University of Toronto Scarborough)

 

Community partners:

West Moberly First Nations

Saulteau First Nations

Treaty 8 Tribal Association

Associations between density and proximity of hydraulic fracturing wells and birth outcomes in Northeastern British Columbia

There is not a lot of information in the scientific literature regarding exposure to contaminants associated with hydraulic fracturing and the potential health impacts of that industry. However, the available toxicological data and existing epidemiological studies show that reproduction and fetal development might be affected. As part of our ongoing efforts to answer the legitimate concerns of healthcare providers and communities in Northeastern British Columbia regarding hydraulic fracturing, we investigated the associations between maternal residential proximity to hydraulic fracturing wells and birth outcomes using birth records data over a period of 10 years. 

This is the first epidemiological study in Canada on hydraulic fracturing and health outcomes. We found potential association with increased odds of preterm birth and reduced birthweight. Currently, we are investigating the associations between maternal proximity to hydraulic fracturing activity and endocrine-related birth defects, as well as maternal depression and anxiety.

 

Principal Investigator:

Élyse Caron-Beaudoin (University of Toronto Scarborough)

Community partners:

Treaty 8 Tribal Association  

Related publication:

Caron-Beaudoin, É., Whitworth, K. W., Bosson-Rieutort, D., Wendling, G., Liu, S., & Verner, M. A. (2020). Density and proximity to hydraulic fracturing wells and birth outcomes in Northeastern British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, 1-9.

Is there an association between exposure to hydraulic fracturing and exacerbations of asthma in Northeastern British Columbia?

Since the rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing activity, epidemiological research on hydraulic fracturing and human health effects has been playing "catch-up", with over 60% of peer-reviewed research published since 2014. A growing number of studies found associations between proximity to hydraulic fracturing activity and negative birth and pregnancy outcomes, self-reported health symptoms, childhood hematologic cancers, hospital admission and respiratory illnesses including asthma exacerbations. 

Our study goal is to examine the association of hydraulic fracturing activity with exacerbations of asthma among individuals with a diagnosis living in Northeastern British Columbia. Our objective is to link individual-level administrative health data to a commonly-used surrogate of hydraulic fracturing exposure measure that I have used during my postdoctoral fellowship (see project on hydraulic fracturing and birth outcomes). 

Principal Investigator:

Dr Ulrike Meyer, physician (University of British Columbia)

My role:

Co-Investigator

Emerging contaminants

Nutaratsaliit qanuingisiarningit niqituinnanut (NQN) project: associations between consumption of country foods and exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances

Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAAs) are a large family of synthethic compounds with various industrial and commercial applications. Because of their ability to repel both water and oil, PFAA are found in food packaging, non-stick pan coatins, fire-fighting foams, paper and textile coatings, as well as personal care products. PFAA are exceptionally stable and highly mobile in the environment which leads to high concentrations in the Arctic through long-range atmospheric and oceanic transport. PFAA chemcials accumulate in the food chain and have been measured in many wildlife species consumed by Inuit populations living in the Arctic. Moreover, PFAA are also degradation products of fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs) which are still used in many consumer and industrial products. Therefore, despite legislation surrounding the majority of PFAA congeners, their concentrations are still concerning in the Arctic. Furthermore, a growing body of scientific literature highlights the potential health effects of PFAA exposure on thyroid function, immune response and neurodevelopment.

As part of the NQN project, I investigate the exposure of Nunavimmiut pregnant women to PFAA, and the associations between exposure to PFAA and the consumption of country foods. Country foods are an integral part of the culture in Nunavik and are crucial to sustain food security, nutrition and healthy pregnancies and infants. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that country foods can be safely consumed throughout life without increasing risk of exposure to potentially harmful contaminants. 

Principal Investigator:

Mélanie Lemire (Université Laval)

My role:

Co-Investigator

Community partners: 

Nunavik Research Centre, Makivik Corporation

Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services

Related publication:

Caron-Beaudoin, É., Ayotte, P., Blanchette, C., Muckle, G., Avard, E., Ricard, S., & Lemire, M. (2020). Perfluoroalkyl acids in pregnant women from Nunavik (Quebec, Canada): Trends in exposure and associations with country foods consumption. Environment International, 106169.

Informing and supporting integrated action on contaminants, nutrients and food security in Nunavik

Exposure to food chain contaminants in Nunavik : biomonitoring in adult and youth cohorts of the Qanuilirpitaa survey

Recent data from the NQN and Qanuilirpitaa 2017 study among Inuit adults and pregnant women reflects an increase bioaccumulation of highly persistent contaminants (e.g. mercury, PFAA) in Arctic wildlife. These projects aim to

1) Leverage existing datasets to further analyse contaminants, nutrients, food consumption and food security

2) Conduct regionally requested analyses on specific country foods identified as potential additional contributors to mercury exposure during pregnancy 

3) Support a Nunavik Action Team and conduct activities to support knowledge translation and mobilisation on contaminants, nutrients and food security for all Nunavimmiut 

Principal Investigators: 

Mélanie Lemire (Université Laval)

Pierre Ayotte (Université Laval)

Chris Furgal (Trent University)

My role:

Co-Investigator 

Community partners: 

Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services

PAST PROJECTS

JES!YEH! Study: Jeunes, environnement santé – youth, environment and health: associations between exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and thyroid function

Related publication:

Caron-Beaudoin, É., Ayotte, P., Sidi, E. A. L., of Nutashkuan, C. T. K., McHugh, N. G. L., & Lemire, M. (2019). Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and associations with thyroid parameters in First Nation children and youth from Quebec. Environment international, 128, 13-23.

Pilot study on gestational exposure to contaminants associated with hydraulic fracturing in Northeastern British Columbia

Related publications:

Caron-Beaudoin, É., Valter, N., Chevrier, J., Ayotte, P., Frohlich, K., & Verner, M. A. (2018). Gestational exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Northeastern British Columbia, Canada: a pilot study. Environment International, 110, 131-138.

Caron-Beaudoin, É., Bouchard, M., Wendling, G., Barroso, A., Bouchard, M. F., Ayotte, P., ... & Verner, M. A. (2019). Urinary and hair concentrations of trace metals in pregnant women from Northeastern British Columbia, Canada: a pilot study. Journal of exposure science & environmental epidemiology, 29(5), 613-623.

Endocrine disrupting potential of neonicotinoids: impacts on aromatase (CYP19) expression and activity in cellular models of breast cancer and fetal development

Neonitocinoids are widely used pesticides that exert their effects by binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. They are used as a seed coating in a variety of crops, fruits and vegetables. Due to their relative persistence in the environment, and because neonicotinoids are used as seed treatments and repeatedly applied, concerns regarding human exposure have been raised. The impacts of neonicotinoid insecticides on human health have not been studied in great detail, but an increasing body of evidence suggests they have the potential to disrupt endocrine functions. 

 

During my PhD, I investigated the effects of environmentally-relevant concentrations of widely used neonicotinoids on the promoter specific expression and activity of aromatase in cellular models mimicking the development of breast cancer and the interactions between a fetus and the placenta. Aromatase is a key enzyme in estrogen biosynthesis, as it is responsible of the final conversion of androstenedione to estrone, and testosterone to estradiol. The CYP19 gene is expressed in a tissue-specific manner by the activation of various promoters located in the noncoding region of the gene. 

We found that exposure to neonicotinoids in breast cancer cellular models led to an increased CYP19 expression and, ultimately, to an increase in aromatase activity. In the H295R cellular model, we found that neonicotinoids increase CYP19 expression by activating two promoters (PII and I.3). In the Hs578T cellular model, we found that neonitocinoid exposure resulted in a switch in CYP19 promoter usage, involving the inhibition of I.4 promoter activity and an increase of PII. I.3 and I.7 promoter-mediated CYP19 expression and aromatase catalytic activity. PII and I.3 promoters are normally inactive in the breast. Breast cancer is characterized by an over-expression of CYP19 through an inhibition of the normal I.4 promoter and an increase in the activity of PII, I.3 and I.7 promoters. These studies allowed us to demonstrate in vitro that neonitocinoids may stimulate a change in CYP19 promoter usage similar to that observed in patients with hormone-dependent breast cancer. 

We also found that exposure to neonicotinoids in a feto-placental co-culture model led to an increase in aromatase activity, and subsequently an increase in estrone and estradiol production. Interestingly, we also found that neonicotinoids inhibited the production of estriol (an estrogen uniquely produced during pregnancy and critical for placental development) by 70-80% because of the metabolism of neonicotinoids by CYP3A7 enzyme, which blocked the normal estriol production.

Related publications:

Caron-Beaudoin, É., Denison, M. S., & Sanderson, J. T. (2016). Effects of neonicotinoids on promoter-specific expression and activity of aromatase (CYP19) in human adrenocortical carcinoma (H295R) and primary umbilical vein endothelial (HUVEC) cells. Toxicological Sciences, 149(1), 134-144.

Caron-Beaudoin, E., Viau, R., Hudon-Thibeault, A. A., Vaillancourt, C., & Sanderson, J. T. (2017). The use of a unique co-culture model of fetoplacental steroidogenesis as a screening tool for endocrine disruptors: The effects of neonicotinoids on aromatase activity and hormone production. Toxicology and applied pharmacology, 332, 15-24.

Caron-Beaudoin, É., Viau, R., & Sanderson, J. T. (2018). Effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on promoter-specific aromatase (CYP19) expression in Hs578t breast cancer cells and the role of the VEGF pathway. Environmental health perspectives, 126(4), 047014.

FUNDING

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Fonds de recherche du Québec - santé (FRQS)

Fonds de recherche du Québec - Nature et technologies (FRQNT)

Health Canada

Northern Contaminants Program: Indigenous and Northern Affaires Canada

Rural Coordination Centre of British Columbia

The Lloyd Jones Collins Foundation

Armand-Frappier Foundation

© 2023 by Élyse Caron-Beaudoin. Proudly created with Wix.com

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