New article in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

In a new paper published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (Zahara et al. 2015) myself and others from Dr. Christy Morrissey’s avian ecotoxicology lab at the University of Saskatchewan examine latent cognitive effects (learning and memory) of juvenile PCB exposure in the European starling. The research is the major output of my environmental toxicology research internship held with Dr. Morrissey from September 2012-March 2013.

Clutch of 6 eggs, including a 1 day old starling.

Clutch of 6 eggs, including a 1 day old starling. Photo by L. Flahr, 2012.

The study, which tested only birds that were exposed to PCBs (a hormone disrupting chemical) in their first 18 days of life, found that birds dosed with higher amounts of PCBs were more error prone and took longer to complete a learning task than lower-dose or non-dosed birds. This research is particularly important since it deals with the same levels of PCBs that starlings and other birds are readily exposed to in their environment. Impairments to cognition might impact the ability of starlings to learn/remember locations of stored food or reduce their ability to build and remember the spatial maps necessary for long-term migration. A companion study on these same birds (Flahr et al. 2015) provides evidence that low-level PCB exposure also delays the onset of starling migratory behaviour.

Importantly, these papers remind us that scientific knowledge about contaminants is always updating. Even 40 years after PCB usage was banned in North America, scientists continue to discover previously unknown environmental/human/nonhuman health consequences of these and other chemicals. Undoubtedly, there are numerous other latent/unknown consequences of PCBs that have yet to be discovered.

Holding an ~ 7 day old juvenile starling. Photos taken by Leanne Flahr, 2012.

Holding an ~ 7 day old juvenile starling. Photos taken by Leanne Flahr, 2012.

Full Citations:

Zahara, A., Michel, N., Flahr, L., Ejack, L., & Morrissey, C. ‘Latent cognitive effects from low-level PCB exposure in juvenile European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris.Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry DOI: 10.1002/etc.3084

Flahr, L., Michel, N., Zahara, A., Jones, P., & Morrissey, C. (2015). ‘Developmental exposure to Aroclor 1254 alters migratory behaviour in juvenile European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris),’ Environmental Science and Technology 49: 6274-6283.

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Masters of Environmental Studies and other updates

I have officially defended and completed my Master’s of Environmental Studies thesis, entitled ‘The Governance of Waste in Iqaluit, Nunavut’ and have been awarded with an MES degree through Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.


Sitting on the Tundra. Photo by Laura Oingonn

While my thesis is restricted until publication of three manuscripts, those interested in obtaining a copy of my thesis may e-mail me directly at I will be preparing a shortened version of my thesis to submit to Iqaluit city council shortly; this version of my thesis will be disseminated to research participants.

I look forward to attending the Contested Expertise and Toxic Environments paper workshop in Claremont, California next week (September 17-19th), before drinking copious amounts of tea in Sri Lanka (October 15- November 27th), and beginning my PhD in Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland in January 2016.

My PhD research will examine the historical and contemporary (material and immaterial) network of politics and power that governs uranium mining, radioactivity, and nuclear waste in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada. I will be supervised by Dr. Arn Keeling and Dr. Lianne Leddy as part of the SSHRC-funded Northern Exposures research project. I will be associated with the WaSTE (Waste and Science Technology and Environment) and Abandoned Mines research groups at Memorial University.

Thank you to the Canada’s Waste Flow research group, the community of Iqaluit, and the School of Environmental Studies at Queen’s University for helping me out over the last two years.


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Environmental Science and Technology article

IMG00849-20120611-0927A new article co-authored by Leanne Flahr, Nicole Michel, Paul Jones, Christy Morrissey and I is now available through Environmental Science and Technology. The article, Developmental exposure to Aroclor 1254 alters migratory behaviour in juvenile European starlings, can be downloaded here.

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Arctic Change 2014

Looking forward to presenting my Master’s research at this year’s Arctic Net conference in Ottawa. My paper, Risk and Uncertainty in the City of Iqaluit ‘Dumpcano’, will be presented tomorrow afternoon (December 10th, 16:00) as part of the ‘Interface Between Science and Policy’ session. Abstract below.

IMG_4229 Photo credit: ESPG’s Larissa Pizzolato

Abstract: Risk and Uncertainty in the City of Iqaluit ‘Dumpcano’: Implications for Arctic Waste Governance

On May 23rd, 2014, Iqaluit, Nunavut’s municipal dump spontaneously caught fire for the fourth time in under a year. The deep-seated dump fire, which became known colloquially as the Iqaluit ‘dumpcano’, burned consecutively for over three and a half months. During this time, smoke from the dump fire periodically entered the community causing various environmental and human health concerns. Government policies and directives aimed at managing risk simultaneously rejected and reinforced the public’s concerns. The Territorial health department, for example, repeatedly stated that the situation was not a public health emergency, yet instructed children, elderly persons, women of childbearing age, pregnant women, and those with respiratory issues to limit their exposure to dump smoke. Similarly, air quality monitoring by government scientists indicated that, despite contaminant concentrations being above the acceptable limit for many southern provinces, the amount of exposure would not likely result in long-term impacts to the health of Iqaluit’s residents. The government’s messaging along with its scientific framing was largely rejected by the public: schools shut down due to children complaining of headaches; several major community events were postponed due to dump smoke; employers handed out gas masks to workers; a community activist group formed; and many families evacuated South.

This research draws on ethnographic fieldwork that was conducted in Iqaluit from June-September, 2014. Fieldwork included archival research at municipal and territorial government archives, participant observation at formal and informal sites of waste management (e.g. the Iqaluit dump, city council meetings, public hearings, etc.), and semi-structured interviews with over 30 stakeholders interested in Iqaluit’s waste management. Respondents included: municipal, federal and territorial government officials; local Iqaluit journalists; members of the activist group ‘Iqalummiut for Action’; local composters and recyclers; tourists; current and former Iqaluit city councilors; and various non-participating publics. I argue that the community’s rejection of the government’s messaging about contaminants speaks less to the public’s (in)ability to understand science, and more to the uncertainties that are both inherent to, and caused by, modernity. Additionally, Nunavut’s recent (and ongoing) history of colonialism has engendered distrust amongst many community residents towards the political and government officials responsible for risk management. This paper draws on Ulrich Beck’s risk theory and other environmental studies of risk, uncertainty, and colonialism, to critically consider the role of science and policy in the management of risk perception. Using the Iqaluit ‘Dumpcano’ as a case study of an acute social/political/and environmental event, I posit that cultural and historical factors, as well as the limitations of scientific knowledge, must be acknowledged when implementing science-based policy related to risk management.

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Canada’s Waste Flow on Facebook

Originally posted on Cassandra E. Kuyvenhoven:

Canada’s Waste Flow is now on Facebook!

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Dr. Hird Elected to Royal Society of Canada

Originally posted on Cassandra E. Kuyvenhoven:

Myra J. Hird has been recognized by her peers for her career as a distinguished interdisciplinary scholar with an international reputation for her multifaceted, collaborative investigations into science studies and environmental issues. Fellowship in the RSC is one of the highest recognitions for Canadian academics. Congratulations to Dr. Hird!

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Over 85 days on fire


Night shot of the City of Iqaluit Dumpcano

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