A new health survey commissioned by Grassy Narrows First Nation shows that decades after mercury was dumped into a river system, the physical and mental health of people there is “significantly worse” than that of other First Nations in Canada.
The community-based health survey found that there are fewer elders in Grassy Narrows, which they say suggests people there are dying prematurely.
It also found that one-third of residents of the northern Ontario reserve have lost a close friend or family member to suicide, which is five times an average rate documented in other Ontario First Nations, and 28 per cent had attempted suicide — more than double the rate of other First Nations.
The study also indicates that adult residents over 50 who reported eating more fish as children had experienced poorer success in school and are two times more likely to have an annual income of less than $20,000.
Donna Mergler, a mercury expert at Universite du Quebec a Montreal, who conducted the study, says it is the strongest evidence to date that links a number of “grave” health problems in the community to eating mercury-contaminated fish.
Mercury contamination has plagued the English-Wabigoon River system for half a century, since a paper mill in Dryden, Ont., dumped 9,000 kilograms of the substance into the river systems in the 1960s.
The Ontario government has pledged to spend $85 million to remediate the contamination of the river.