Hold Government Accountable to Build Mercury Poisoning Treatment Centre in Grassy Narrows
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“It’s not an Indigenous problem, it’s a human problem”, says Judy Da Silva, mother of 5, community activist, and International Peace Prize winner. Da Silva lives on Grassy Narrows, a First Nations reserve 100km northeast of Kenora. She is poisoned by mercury.
The Grassy Narrows water crisis began in 1962 when Dryden Chemical used mercury-based chemicals to produce bleaching agents for the nearby paper mill. The 12 tons of untreated methyl mercury waste was then dumped into the Wabigoon River. From 1969 to 1970, the Canadian government discovered high levels of mercury in water and fish, from Dryden Chemical’s 20,000 pounds of mercury dumped into the river. This contamination and water pollution have caused water quality and water scarcity issues for the Grassy Narrows First Nations community, spanning generations.
The impacts of mercury in the water system are evident today, with experts in mercury poisoning reporting that 90% of the Grassy Narrows First Nations show exposure to the mercury. According to a research study, people without mercury poisoning have 20bbp, and a Grassy Narrows resident with mercury poisoning has 60bbp, with many other residents with high levels of mercury poisoning too.
The mercury enters the body from fish, specifically walleye (common in Grassy Narrows), which bioaccumulates. It is passed on through childbirth, and impossible to get out of the body. This is devastating for Indigenous peoples, as “fishing and fish consumption have been traditional and cultural practices of the people of Grassy Narrows for hundreds, if not thousands, of years”. Mercury poisoning symptoms include loss of muscle coordination, tunnel vision, difficulty balancing, cancers, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
For decades, Grassy Narrows has been asking the government for help to treat ill residents, as they are forced to leave the community to get healthcare treatment in far cities. In 2017, Jane Philpott, Federal Minister of Indigenous Services promised to “support them in the development, planning, design, and construction of the treatment center in Grassy Narrows”. This statement was received very positively by Grassy Narrows residents. Simon Forbister, Chief of Grassy Narrows, said that the promise “means a lot to our people… it means people with disabilities can stay in this residence, can stay with their families”, and Judy Da Silva, a community activist, described the promise as “surreal”. The $4.5 million care home is to include rooms for 8 residents, an exam room, showers, tubs, palliative care physiotherapy, counselling, and traditional healing.
While this promise is long overdue and extremely necessary, the promise to create the mercury treatment plant has not yet been fulfilled by the Canadian government. The construction has not begun, with Philpot saying that construction will start in June 2019. However, since the project has been postponed many times, it is probable it will happen again. The mercury levels in the water are expected to stay the same until the $85 million promised by the Ontario provincial government to clean the river system is used to do so. This $85 million is separate from the $4.5 to build the treatment facility. However, the human health impacts will become deadlier and more frequent, as the bioaccumulating mercury will be passed on for generations. In addition, the chronic diseases, found in an alarming number of the Grassy Narrows population, will continue to impact more people. Diseases such as ADD, ADHD, eczema, dermatitis, and anemia will only continue to become more common until the water supply is decontaminated.
Sign this petition to hold the federal government accountable for their promise to build a $4.5 million mercury treatment facility to provide healthcare to mercury poisoned residents of Grassy Narrows.
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