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Both provincial and federal elected officials from the Kenora district are calling for environmental remediation efforts to remove mercury from the Wabigoon River — contamination that is associated with cases of mercury poisoning over a span of 40 years at Grassy Narrows First Nation.
During Question Period in Queen’s Park, June 1, MPP for Kenora-Rainy River, Sarah Campbell (NDP) said the Premier should listen to Grassy Narrows leaders, scientists, and community members calls to clean up the mercury contaminated Wabigoon River.
“When will this government do what everyone knows needs to be done and clean up the Wabigoon River, so the people in Grassy Narrows may fish and live off their land without becoming sick?” Campbell said.
Mercury is a metal released into the ecosystem through both natural events, such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions, and through human activities, such as coal burning, metal smelting and in the case of the Wabigoon River, the release of mercury rich industrial effluent into the river in the 1960s and 70s approximately 130 kilometres upstream from Grassy Narrows.
Mercury exposure poses a particular risk to those who rely heavily on the consumption of predatory fish and traditional wildlife food items and vulnerable groups like developing fetuses, infants, and children.
Kenora MP Bob Nault says there is a scientific case to support the idea that it could be safe to clean up the mercury.
“Efforts to remediate the mercury have been postponed long enough,” said Nault. “These new findings indicate that it is feasible to begin removing the chemical and work towards a heathier waterway. Mercury clean-up efforts have been quite successful in other areas. Working towards restoring the Wabigoon River will benefit both the Grassy Narrows First Nations peoples and the river ecosystems.”
Grassy Narrows youth, traditional drummers, mercury survivors, and supporters from social justice, environmental, faith, and labour movements, held a River Run rally at Queen’s Park, June 2.