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Mercury still affects Grassy Narrows, Wabaseemoong

Monday June 11, 2012
Grassy Narrows band members brought their concerns over mercury poisoning to Toronto last week for a series of rallies.

Mercury is still an on-going problem in Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) as 59 per cent of community members tested in 2010 had mercury poisoning.

“Both the federal and provincial governments need to recognize and effectively address the lasting issue of mercury exposure in First Nation communities along the English Wabigoon River system,” said National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo.

A report on the health impacts resulting from the dumping of 10 tonnes of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River system in the 1960s was delivered by Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister, Regional Chief Angus Toulouse, Dr. Masanori Hanada, report co-author, Judy Da Silva, a Grassy Narrows mother and activist, and Craig Benjamin, from Amnesty International, on June 4 at the Steelworkers Hall in Toronto.

The report resulted from tests on 73 community members from Grassy Narrows and 87 members from Wabaseemoong in 2010 by experts from the Open Research Center for Minamata Studies at Kumamoto Gakuen University in Japan.

Fifty-four people, or 34 per cent of the 160 people tested, were diagnosed with Minamata disease and 40 people, or 25 per cent, were diagnosed with suspected Minamata disease by the team of experts. The experts included five neurologists/psychiatrists and internal medicine specialists in neurology, two nurses, one sociologist, one analyst, two supporters and three on-site supporters.

Two of the experts have been involved in Minamata screening since 1975, Dr. Masazumi Harada and Dr. Tadashi Fujino.

Mothers from Grassy Narrows challenged Premier Dalton McGuinty to eat fish from Grassy Narrows at a June 6 fish fry in Toronto.

Completed by Laurie Chan, northern research chair at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and associate professor at McGill University’s Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment, the report found that while mercury levels have decreased since the introduction of controls on dumping in 1970, three species of fish, bass, northern pike and walleye, still have mercury concentrations above what is considered safe for consumption.

The report — Our waters, our fish, our people, Mercury contamination in fish resources of two Treaty #3 communities — recommended that people should avoid eating fish from Clay Lake, while fish from all other lakes could be consumed sparingly, particularly if the calculated lengths for standard mercury concentrations are taken into consideration.

The report advised that people should aim to eat only shorter specimens in each catch. Longer fish should be avoided, or eaten only on occasion.

The report also noted that whitefish could be eaten more frequently than northern pike, bass and walleye, considering the relatively low levels of mercury found in the species.

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