Mercury Poisoning in Grassy Narrows worse than ever

by April 6, 2010

The health impacts of mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows people are worse now than in the 1970's, says a newly translated health study by the world renowned Japanese mercury expert Dr. Harada Masazumi.

The translated study (PDF) was released today, April 6, 2010, exactly 40 years after the Ontario government banned fishing on the Wabigoon River due to high level mercury contamination by the Dryden paper mill.

The unprecedented study found that, even with the decreased levels of mercury found in the Wabigoon River today, the people of Grassy Narrows are suffering from mercury poisoning now more than ever--and the Ontario and Federal governments are doing nothing about it.

Dr. Harada, a Professor at Kumamoto Gakuen University, Dr. Harada played a key role in exposing mercury poisoning in Minamata, Japan. He first visited Grassy Narrows and White Dog First Nations in 1975, ultimately revealing that people from both communities had mercury levels three and seven times higher than Health Canada's guidelines.

Dr. Harada returned 29 years later, in 2004 to perform another study--only to find that 43 percent of his original patients in Grassy Narrows had died.

The study confirms that the People of Grassy Narrows are still being poisoned. Dr. Harada and his team found "60 cases of Minamata Disease (34.2% of total examinees, excluding people 10 years old and younger), 54 cases (30.8%) of Minamata disease with complications and 25 cases (14.2%) of possible Minamata Disease for a total of 139 cases (79.4%)." Each patient exhibited one or more symptoms associated with Minimata Disease, including tunnel vision, loss of coordination, tremors, loss of balance, speech impairments and loss of sensation (feeling) in the extremities.

As disturbing as the health study is, it pales in comparison to the Ontario and Federal Government's neglect of the 40-year-old health crisis.

For instance, only 38 percent of the Mercury waste victims have been acknowledged by the Mercury Disability Board (MDB) which was formed in 2007 to carry out the terms of the 1985 settlement between the two governments, Whitedog and Grassy Narrows First Nations, and the two companies responsible for contaminating the river system. (Wabauskang First Nation, however, was excluded from the settlement even though they, too, were gravely effected by mercury exposure).

Of the remaining 62 percent of Dr. Harada's, 77 people had applied for disability benefits but they were rejected by the MDB. Another 7 applications were suspended, and 47 patients had not applied.

Those who have been acknowledged by the Disability Board--819 adults and 88 children--receive a meager $250 to $800 a month for a lifetime of suffering.

Further, "Health Canada [has] stopped testing for mercury in Grassy Narrows residents claiming that it was no longer a problem because mercury levels have fallen below the Health Canada safety guideline," notes a recent press statement (PDF). If anything, the decision shows just how weak Health Canada's safety guidelines are, given the results of Dr Harada's study.

"How can we have trust, and reconciliation when the government of Ontario walks away from their responsibility to make things right about the mercury pollution they permitted," asks Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister. "Our grassroots people are still suffering the affects on their health and livelihood from this poison in the water. It is no wonder they are out there on the blockades. The province needs to come back to the table to resolve the mercury issue."

“The mills take from our forest, and then give us back disease and sickness and death,” explained Judy Da Silva, a grassroots mother and blockader from Grassy Narrows. “Our people have suffered for 40 years from mercury poisoning, and now this sickness is being passed on to our children in the womb. We must stop the mills from destroying our forests, our water, and our culture for the survival of all people.”

Underlying the government's failings--their avoidance and complicity in the suffering of Grassy Narrows (which reaches all the way up to the Prime Minister and Governor General)--the stage is still set for another pollution disaster in Canada.

This was made clear by the Auditor General of Canada, Ms. Sheila Fraser, in her 2009 Fall Report.

According to the Report, there are next to no federal regulations in Canada to environmentally protect any reserve lands, including Grassy Narrows.

If such regulations existed, the Dryden Mill would have never been allowed to dump its 20,000 pounds of mercury waste into the Wabigoon River anymore than they could have dump it onto the steps of Parliament.

It makes Canada's obligation to consult and accommodate First Nations even more important, even if that obligation is often buried by the government.

It is one of the land's only two defences until Canada can stand on its own two feet; this is, without needing its policy of molesting, disabling sacrificing, and buying off Indigenous People to do business.

  • Tanya
    April 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Oh this breaks my heart. I am writing another paper on this and sometimes I just have to stop and cry.


  • Your Not Alone, Me Also
    August 4, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    This truly does break my heart. Especially when I was under the impretion that Canada was always the best at taking care of Our Humans and Our Children, no matter what race or nationality they came from... -- they are All Humans and this story bothers me ... I feel so much shame at not listening hard enough, at not taking the time to speak out for All Our Children and Adults in this Country... it is time we as Canadians, show that Love and Help Each Other Out... and demand this govt be held accountable.. as it should have been all along... who dropped the ball?


    • August 6, 2010 at 10:58 am

      First, It's just like to say thank you for commenting. I couldn't agree with you more, we have to stand together, regardless of our beliefs, to make sure the government is accountable and responsible!

      This truly does break my heart. Especially when I was under the impretion that Canada was always the best at taking care of Our Humans and Our Children, no matter what race or nationality they came from

      Sadly, this is what most Canadians have been led to believe. It's definitely what we were taught in school. But the truth is, Canada's not all that different from a country like Brazil when it comes to human rights. Living standards are generally better here, but there are just as many abuses. They just don't get any real attention, whether it's the homeless woman that gives birth on the street in broad daylight, only to get thrown in jail... or the thousands of toxic waste sites on reserve (grassy Narrows being only one)... or even Canada's history of slavery, not to mention residential schools and the legislated sexual sterilization of Indigenous Women. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

      Really then, every successive government has dropped the ball, all the way back to the 1700s. In the case of Grassy Narrows, it particularly extends from Trudeau to Harper. Here's a couple reports if you want more info:

      Former Canadian Prime Minister Suppressed Mercury studies

      Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is no steward of the land

  • Bonnie
    October 25, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I have jst watched the documentary. I am appalled once more at the lack of consitant help and publicity of these situations. I woudl like to thegoverment oficials come to Grassy Narrows and be served a meal of fresh caught fish, and televise just how many of them would eat it!
    It proves once more that money is more important then people, until we all stand together and demand new ways of using the earths raw materials, this will not stop. It is happening with the water all over the world.
    The earth mother is being raped and pillaged for the greed of the corporTIONS.
    i SUGGEST A DEMONSTARTION ON THE STePS OF PARLIAMENT, AND TO UNITE ALL THE First nations and non natives in this fight.


Leave a Response