Kathleen Wynne's Home Demonstration. Kevin Konnyu//FreeGrassy.net

Some of the world’s top scientists are refuting claims by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne that attempts to clean up mercury contamination upstream of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, north of Kenora, could make the situation worse.   

 “This fear is needless,” said Dr. David Schindler in a letter co-signed by scientist David Suzuki and sent to Premier Kathleen Wynne Tuesday, the Toronto Star reported.  “If the river system remains in its current state, we anticipate a continued degradation of the health and social fabric of the Grassy Narrows community.” 

Schindler, a world-renowned ecology expert, told the Toronto Star that Wynne has a “very good” record on environmental issues, but “She is getting some bad advice on this one.”

Last week, a Toronto Star investigation showed that fish from Clay Lake and the Wabigoon River near Grassy Narrows are the most mercury-contaminated in Ontario. 

Following that report, Environment Minister Glen Murray said in Question Period that the river would be cleaned up “to the satisfaction of the chief and the health of the people of Grassy Narrows.”

But Premier Wynne and her staff continue to claim that remediation could make the contamination worse and the government has released less than 10 per cent of the $300,000 it committed last June to look for the sources of suspected ongoing releases of mercury in the area.

“Reed Paper in Dryden, Ont., dumped chemicals in the river in the 1960s and early 1970s, resulting in mercury poisoning among First Nations people who ate fish caught in the area,” the CBC reported, “The contamination closed the commercial fishery that was the foundation of the economy at Grassy Narrows First Nation. With little money and no local grocery store, residents have continued to eat the fish throughout the years.” 

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. The symptoms showed up some fifty years after the issue first came to light.

In 1984, government scientists claimed that the river system could be effectively cleaned up and successfully demonstrated a new remediation technique, which would reduce contamination levels in a test area by 90 per cent.

But the province chose to allow the river to clean up naturally.  Decades later, the river system still has dangerously high mercury levels, which indicates that there must be an ongoing source of mercury.

The Ontario government was told about an illegal mercury dump upstream of Grassy Narrows over one year ago. An illegal mercury dump could explain why the river system has failed to recover over the last five decades, and why the fish still contain mercury at levels up to 150 times higher than what is safe for consumption.

Basic testing of the river upstream and downstream of the former industrial site would reveal if there is an ongoing source of pollution but the Ontario government hasn’t done even that since 1980.

“After 57 years of devastating contamination of their waters, the people of Grassy Narrows are owed a debt of justice. It is the premier’s responsibility to ensure that their rights are finally respected and upheld,” said Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians chairperson.

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

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Photo: Kevin Konnyu//FreeGrassy.net