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'Yes, logging introduces mercury!' New revelations from Grassy Narrows

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Photo: Howl Arts Collective/flickr

Another stunning story in the Toronto Star last week revealed that top environment officials in the Ontario government knew that clearcut logging in Grassy Narrows territory would increase mercury levels in fish even as the province refused a request by the First Nation for an environmental assessment of the province's 10-year logging plan for the area. 

The article references government emails obtained through freedom of information requests made by Grassy Narrows:

"Yes, logging introduces Hg (mercury)!" one scientist wrote to a colleague. In another email, the former director of the branch that oversees scientists charged with monitoring Ontario's environment observed that "no one is tracking the downstream implications" of the logging plan.

Grassy Narrows is challenging the logging plans in court.

"It's disturbing that internally they would acknowledge (that clear-cut logging releases mercury) amongst each other, but when we request an environmental assessment that they would refuse it," said Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister Sr.

Mercury is deposited into the atmosphere by coal-burning power plants and incinerators.  The mercury then drops out when it rains and builds up in the soil on the forest floor. Clearcutting allows that mercury in the soil to wash out into the nearest lakes and rivers where it enters the food chain resulting in harmful levels in fish at the top of that food chain such as walleye -- which are central to the diet and culture of the people of Grassy Narrows who are already impacted by mercury that was deliberately dumped in their waters by a paper mill in the 1960s. 

A large portion of the Grassy community suffers from mercury poisoning -- including from symptoms such as loss of motor function, tingling and weakness in their limbs, and difficulty walking, speaking and swallowing -- some 50 years after the issue first came to light.

"Any increase of exposure to this already 'sensitive' community to mercury contamination from sources, such as mining, logging and reservoirs, would further compound the harm to the health and well-being of the present and future generations," said Donna Mergler, an environmental scientist at Université du Québec à Montréal.

Please take a moment now to sign this letter telling Premier Wynne she must finally bring justice to the people of Grassy Narrows who have been waiting and suffering for decades.

The letter calls on her to:

  • provide the best possible healthcare for mercury survivors
  • compensate those who have been impacted
  • fund an environmental health monitoring station run by the people of Grassy Narrows
  • monitor pollution sources and remediate the mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon River system
  • end corporate logging without community authorization

For numerous blogs by Brent Patterson, Michael Butler, Meera Karunananthan and myself on the Grassy Narrows First Nation struggle for water justice, please go to the Council of Canadians blog here.

Photo: Howl Arts Collective/flickr

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