Grassy Narrows mercury victims up to 6 times more likely to have debilitating health problems, report says

Posted
May 24, 2018

Residents of a northwestern Ontario First Nation who have been diagnosed with mercury poisoning are up to six times more likely to suffer from a wide range of debilitating health problems, a new report finds.

That's among the conclusions from peer-reviewed research publicly released Thursday morning by Grassy Narrows First Nation.

The community commissioned environmental health expert Donna Mergler, a member of a World Health Organization-affiliated research group, to study the fallout of eating fish caught from nearby waterways, which were contaminated by decades-old industrial pollution.

"With this health survey and with the discovery of mercury, it's just a very dark picture," said Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle. "But at the same time, our people are doing the best they can to live under the conditions they're living in.

"But we do need help."

Grassy Narrows is located about 100 kilometres northeast of Kenora. Advocates for the community say it remains one of Canada's worst examples of the effects of legacy pollution.

Former owners of a mill upstream in Dryden dumped mercury-containing industrial effluent into the English-Wabigoon River system in the 1960s and early 1970s.

That contamination closed a thriving commercial fishery in the early 1970s and devastated Grassy Narrows's economy. With few local economic opportunities and little money, residents have continued to eat the fish caught from nearby lakes and rivers over the years.

A report by fresh water scientist Patricia Sellers in 2015 found mercury levels still risingin some nearby lakes and Japanese researchers found more than 90 per cent of the populations of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nationsshow signs of poisoning.

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