Report calls for mercury dumped in Wabigoon River in 1960s to be safely removed

Demonstrators gather during a protest in Toronto on Wednesday April 7, 2010 to highlight demands for the restitution for mercury poisoning which is claimed to be affecting the health of the community in Grassy Narrows, Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — A First Nations community in northern Ontario is again asking the province for help to clean up the mercury that’s been poisoning the Wabigoon River for nearly 50 years.

Grassy Narrows, near the Manitoba border, has dealt with mercury poisoning since the Dryden Chemical Company dumped 9,000 kilograms of it into the Wabigoon and English River systems during the 1960s.

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The government ordered the residents of Grassy Narrows to stop eating fish in the 1970s, but was reluctant to attempt to clean up the mercury for fears it would make the contamination worse.

A new report says it is possible to clean local rivers and lakes of mercury, which it found still lingers in dangerous levels in sediment and in fish, and causes ongoing devastating health impacts in the community.

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John Rudd, a former government scientist who examined the mercury problems in the Wabigoon in the 1980s, and helped prepare the updated report, says mercury levels remain surprisingly high.

Rudd says mercury concentrations haven’t decreased in 30 years, and he believes the government should see if there’s a new source of contamination or if the shuttered Dryden Chemical plant is still leaching it into the water.

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