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No firm plan to get mercury out of river near Grassy Narrows

Demostrators gather as they prepare to march 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. Chris Young / The Canadian Press

Ontario’s Liberal government insists it is “totally committed” to cleaning up mercury in a river near a northern First Nation, but says it will not do anything that could make the situation worse for residents of Grassy Narrows.

The remote community near the Manitoba border has dealt with mercury poisoning since a paper mill in Dryden, Ont., dumped 9,000 kilograms of the substance into the Wabigoon and English River systems during the 1960s.

READ MORE: Grassy Narrows: Ontario premier ‘deadly serious’ on mercury poisoning clean up

Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray said Wednesday that the government would make sure the cleanup of mercury in the Wabigoon River was done “to the satisfaction of the chief and the health of the people of Grassy Narrows.”

Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister then issued a statement today inviting Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne “to put this historic commitment in writing” and sign it alongside him in a ceremony so the community “can know it is real.”

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Fobister says until Wednesday, Ontario had committed only to further studies and to consider options for dealing with the mercury that contaminates rivers and lakes and destroyed a fishery that was the basis of the local economy.

READ MORE: Teens from Grassy Narrows First Nation demand action on mercury poisoning

But Wynne told the Ontario legislature today that her government won’t take any steps to clean up the mercury that could stir up more of the chemical trapped in the sediment on the bottom of the waterways.

Wynne repeated the government’s long-held position that it would not “act in contradiction of science” as it deals with the contamination.

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