- Created on Thursday, 16 February 2017 01:41
First Nations chief says Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised action and “wants to get the ball rolling.”
Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister Sr. Fobister has been fighting to have the mercury-contamination of his people addressed for more than 40 years, after a Dryden paper plant dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River system between 1962 and 1970. (TODD KOROL / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
Nearly five decades after mercury was dumped in the river upstream from their home, the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation have received a clear provincial commitment to clean up the potent neurotoxin that has been making them sick.
Environment Minister Glen Murray and Indigenous Relations Minister David Zimmer said in a statement Monday they were “completely committed” to finding areas near Grassy Narrows contaminated with mercury and creating a plan to clean it up. That includes a “full and rigorous” assessment of the site of the old paper mill upstream where the Star recently found mercury-contaminated soil.
“Mercury contamination has had a profound impact on the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong (White dog) Independent Nations, and has to be properly addressed,” the ministers said.
“We are completely committed to working with all partners to identify all potentially contaminated sites, and to creating and implementing a comprehensive remediation action plan for the English-Wabigoon River (system).”
Scientists are ready to get to work on the northern Ontario watershed this spring, as soon as weather permits.
The province’s commitment follows a Star investigation that probed the impact of the poisoning and decades-long lack of action by government.
Late last week, Premier Kathleen Wynne met with Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister Sr. and environmentalist David Suzuki, who has been calling for a cleanup of the river system.
Fobister said Wynne told him the old mill site, and the river, would be cleaned. “She wants to get the ball rolling and get the work budget in place and get this thing done,” he said.
Fobister, who called Monday’s commitment “historic,” has been fighting to have the mercury-contamination of his people addressed for more than 40 years, after a Dryden paper plant dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River system between 1962 and 1970. The site of the plant, now under different ownership, is about 100 kilometres upstream from Grassy Narrows.
Coincidentally, Fobister, 61, is travelling to Minimata, Japan, on Tuesday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of an industrial mercury disaster that began poisoning the Japanese in the 1950s. A photograph of his brother protesting over the mercury-contamination of Grassy Narrows hangs in a museum there.
Monday’s joint statement from Murray and Zimmer said that, in light of new information of potential mercury contamination, the province is now conducting a “full and rigorous mercury contamination assessment on the entire mill site.” (A spokesperson for Domtar, the company that now owns the land, said the company has also volunteered to pay for some additional sampling by independent experts.)
Last month, the Star published a story detailing how two reporters and volunteers from environmental group Earthroots dug holes in a clearing behind the old mill and found significantly higher-than-normal levels of mercury — nearly 80 times the level expected to be found in soil from that region of the province. The spot where the Star found contaminated soil is near where a former mill worker said he was part of a crew that “haphazardly” buried drums filled with salt and mercury in the 1970s.
The province says it is taking its lead on cleanup efforts from a team of scientists, led by mercury expert John Rudd, who have been advising Grassy Narrows.
- Created on Tuesday, 14 February 2017 15:52
Ontario commits to cleanup of mercury contamination near Grassy Narrows First Nation
Cabinet ministers promise First Nations-led cleanup effort of decades-old mercury contamination
By Jody Porter, CBC News
Research released in September 2016 shows more than 90 per cent of the population at Grassy Narrows First Nation is experiencing symptoms of mercury poisoning. (Jody Porter/CBC)
The Ontario government is promising to find and remediate all the mercury contamination that continues to poison people at Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations in the northwestern corner of the province.
"We are completely committed to working with all partners to identify all potentially contaminated sites, and to creating and implementing a comprehensive remediation action plan for the English Wabigoon River," said a statement issued Monday from the minister of environment and the minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation.
The announcement came after a meeting on Friday between Premier Kathleen Wynne, Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister and environmentalist David Suzuki.
Mercury was dumped in the river that flows through the two northwestern Ontario First Nations by Reed Paper, upstream in Dryden, Ont., in the 1960s and early 1970s. Recent scientific reports show the water is still contaminated.
More than 90 per cent of the population at Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations show signs of mercury poisoning, according toresearch released in September by Japanese experts who have been studying the health of people there for decades.
"I welcome this historic commitment and I am eager to work to make this promise a reality so that my people can enjoy our culture and our homeland in health again without fear of an invisible poison," Fobister said.
"When our fish are safe to eat, we will know that his promise has been kept."
The First Nations have been calling for a cleanup for more than 40 years and were recently joined by some of the world's leading scientific experts on mercury remediation.
- Created on Friday, 13 January 2017 12:38
Earthroots volunteers find contaminated soil in area of reported mercury dump
Gord Miller, former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and Earthroots Chair, calls on the government for a comprehensive survey of the entire former mill site for mercury contamination.
Toronto – Earthroots has found evidence of a poisonous mercury dump behind the Dryden paper mill, upstream from the Grassy Narrows First Nation where many people suffer from mercury poisoning. A soil sample from the site collected by Earthroots volunteers contains hundreds of times the level of mercury found in a nearby uncontaminated site. The location is within the circle drawn on a map by Kas Glowacki, a former mill worker, to show where he buried 50 barrels of mercury and salt haphazardly in a pit behind the mill in 1972. Mercury is a potent neuro-toxin that damages the brain and nervous system.
"The presence of a mercury hot spot confirms the need for a comprehensive survey of the entire former mill site for mercury contamination sites. Any such mercury deposits represent an ongoing threat to human health and the ecosystem," said Gord Miller, Board Chair of Earthroots, an environmental group, and former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.
This key evidence comes to light shortly after the Wynne government told the legislature on November 23rd that “We have completed very extensive tests... and found there are no barrels buried and there is no source [of mercury].” Grassroots volunteers for Earthroots, an environmental group, found the contaminated soil in a weekend excursion using a hand held metal detector.
"The government has dismissed this eye-witness report of an improper toxic dump, but we know a proper site investigation has not been done if a small group of untrained volunteers finds contaminated soil on a weekend survey," said Gord Miller. "It's time to end this shameful saga and finally do the right thing by cleaning up the English-Wabigoon River and its watershed once and for all."
- Created on Friday, 13 January 2017 02:29
Star reporters and volunteers from Earthroots took soil samples from behind an old paper mill, 100 kilometres upstream from Grassy Narrows, which revealed significantly elevated levels of mercury.
DRYDEN, ONT.—The Star and volunteers from an environmental group have found mercury-contaminated soil upstream from Grassy Narrows First Nation.
Over several weeks this past fall, first the volunteers from Earthroots and then reporters from the Star dug a dozen holes and took soil samples from a site behind an old paper mill, then had them analyzed by a lab. Soil from three holes contained significantly higher-than-normal levels of mercury.
“There is more than enough of a smoking gun to require a full investigation,” said Gord Miller, Ontario’s former environmental commissioner and the chair of the Earthroots group.
When presented with the findings, the province told the Star it takes them “seriously” and will work with the current landowner to determine if more tests are needed.
Mercury contamination, a serious health risk, has plagued the indigenous community in northern Ontario for decades. Dangerous and persistently high levels of mercury in the sediment and fish in the river system suggest there is an ongoing source, but the province has denied the possibility that the site of the old mill — 100 kilometres upstream from Grassy Narrows — could be responsible.
The samples were taken from an area circled on a map by retired mill worker Kas Glowacki, who said that in 1972 he was part of a group who “haphazardly” dumped drums filled with salt and mercury into a pit behind the mill.
- Created on Friday, 13 January 2017 01:17
Toronto – Earthroots has found evidence of a poisonous mercury dump behind the Dryden paper mill, upstream from the Grassy Narrows First Nation where many people suffer from mercury poisoning. A soil sample from the site collected by Earthroots volunteers contains hundreds of times the level of mercury found in a nearby uncontaminated site. The location is within the circle drawn on a map by Kas Glowacki, a former mill worker, to show where he buried 50 barrels of mercury and salt haphazardly in a pit behind the mill in 1972. Mercury is a potent neuro-toxin that damages the brain and nervous system. This key evidence comes to light shortly after the Wynne government told the legislature on November 23rd that “We have completed very extensive tests... and found there are no barrels buried and there is no source [of mercury].” Grassroots volunteers for Earthroots, an environmental group, found the contaminated soil in a weekend excursion using a hand held metal detector.
PRESS CONFERENCE: Earthroots will reveal how they found mercury contaminated soil behind the Dryden mill where a former worker reports burying 50 toxic barrels.
WHERE: Queen’s Park Media Studio, Toronto, ON.
WHEN: Friday January 13th, 11:30 AM
WHO: Gord Miller, former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and current Earthroots Board Chair.
High resolution photos and B-roll available. #FreeGrassy
- Created on Monday, 02 January 2017 17:37
OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jan. 01, 2017 8:14PM EST
Last updated Sunday, Jan. 01, 2017 8:16PM EST
Responsibility for the mercury problems straddles provincial and federal jurisdictions and, so far, the province of Ontario has borne much of the blame for the fact that the contamination has persisted in the Wabigoon River for six decades. But David Sone of Earthroots, a conservation advocacy group, says there are at least three reasons for the federal government to get involved.
“There is at least still some [federal] responsibility for fisheries where they are part of a cultural fishery” like the one at Grassy Narrows, said Mr. Sone. “There is a responsibility for the health of First Nations. And there is the broader treaty and fiduciary responsibility for the well-being of First Nations.”
The chief of a small Northern Ontario First Nation whose people are being poisoned by mercury from a defunct paper mill is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to engage the federal government in the cleanup of the river that is the source of the community’s fish.
Simon Fobister, the Chief of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, has written twice to Mr. Trudeau – in May and in September – and Mr. Fobister’s predecessor, Roger Fobister, wrote to the Prime Minister in March. All of the letters told Mr. Trudeau: “We invite you to visit our community to announce alongside us that the mercury in our river system, our source of life, will finally be cleaned up.”
The chief says he has received no response to those invitations, though the Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged to The Globe and Mail that it had received them. A spokeswoman for Mr. Trudeau pointed out that a representative of the Indigenous Affairs department visited the community in June along with provincial ministers.
Many First Nations in Canada are coping with the negative environmental consequences of development on or near their territories, but few have endured hardships like those suffered in Grassy Narrows, where 90 per cent of residents are showing signs of mercury poisoning.
- Created on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 19:55
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- Created on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 19:12
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Niagara Falls – Two wild canids were found shot to death and dumped in the snow just outside Awenda Provincial Park last week, where hunting is illegal.
The animals were identified as a female adult and female pup of the year. Without genetic testing, determining if they were eastern coyotes or threatened Algonquin wolves is impossible. Upon finding the two animals the hiker notified the Ontario Provincial Police, who are now investigating the incident with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Last week, the same hiker found three canids inside the park boundary shot to death. When he returned to the site several hours later, the hiker found the bodies were removed by person(s) unknown.
The hiker noted that the way the coyotes or wolves were killed is referred to as ‘rot shot’ – gunfire directed at the side of an animal, used to deliver an excruciatingly painful slow death.
“The number of animals, their ages, and the small scale of the region in which they were found indicates they were probably a family pack,” says Lesley Sampson, Founding Executive Director of Canada Watch Canada. “Coyotes and wolves are highly social, family-oriented keystone species that manage Ontario’s diverse ecosystems. The fragmenting of a coyote or wolf family can have a drastic and detrimental impact on the stability of the family structure, while disrupting the prey/predator relationships throughout their home range.”
- Created on Tuesday, 29 November 2016 00:00
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- Created on Thursday, 24 November 2016 15:08
Ontario vows to clean up Grassy Narrows river system
Ontario’s environment minister is promising to clean up the river system near Grassy Narrows First Nation “to the satisfaction of the chief and the health of the people.”
The Star reported Tuesday that a comprehensive analysis of provincial fish data conducted by the University of Waterloo’s research chair in biology, Dr. Heidi Swanson, revealed that the walleye eaten by the people of Grassy Narrows are the most mercury-contaminated in the province.
Promise to clean up waters at Grassy Narrows is long overdue: Editorial
Fifty-four years after mercury was first dumped into the river system near Grassy Narrows in northern Ontario, poisoning the fish and any person or creature that ate them, Environment Minister Glen Murray is finally promising to clean up the water.
It’s about time.
Study after study has shown that generations of people from the Grassy Narrows and Whitedog First Nations have been poisoned as the provincial government mishandled the file and obfuscated the truth.
Grassy Narrows residents eating fish with highest mercury levels in province
For the residents of Grassy Narrows who have fished Clay Lake and the river downstream for generations, walleye is a dietary staple.
Now a comprehensive analysis of provincial data conducted for the Star confirms what has long been suspected: the walleye they are eating are the most mercury-contaminated in the province.
“It’s overwhelming for me,” said Ryan Kokokopenace, 36, when told of the Star’s finding. Kokokopenace and his family fish for walleye in the Wabigoon River, which is connected to Clay Lake. “It’s been our way of life for so long. I’ve been doing it since I was 3.”
The mercury in an average meal of walleye from Clay Lake is 15 times the daily tolerable intake limit for adults, and about 40 times the limit for women of child-bearing age, pregnant women and children.
- Created on Sunday, 23 October 2016 04:26
Risky loopholes or a lasting legacy? You decide.
The future of the Greenbelt is being considered now!
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- Created on Monday, 19 September 2016 06:17
For Immediate Release
Majority of 17,301 public comments opposed to hunting and trapping threatened Algonquin wolves
MONTREAL (September 19, 2016) – Last week, as the hunting and trapping seasons opened, the Ontario government announced its decision to strip at-risk Algonquin wolves of protection from hunters and trappers across the majority of their range. Ongoing hunting and trapping, the primary threats to the species, caused the wolves' at-risk status to deteriorate to Threatened on June 15th 2016. A mere 154 adult wolves are left in Ontario. Conservation and animal rights groups from across North America are condemning the decision.
Ontario claims their decision is justified due to the inability of hunters and trappers to differentiate between coyotes and Algonquin wolves. Without genetically testing each animal killed, the government cannot track how many Algonquin wolves are killed. There is no limit on the number of wolves that can be trapped and hunting bag limits are absent in some parts of the wolf's habitat.
Hunting and trapping were banned in the townships surrounding Algonquin Provincial Park in 2001 due to overwhelming public concern for the park wolves. This year, public concern has been ignored - the majority of the 17,301 comments submitted in response to the proposals opposed the regulation changes.
"The Ontario government is peddling their decision as improved protection for the wolves because they have closed hunting and trapping in three additional areas bordering provincial parks," said Hannah Barron, director of wildlife conservation, Earthroots. "However, these new closures are too small to protect Algonquin wolf packs, let alone individual animals capable of traveling hundreds of kilometres in their lifetime. Any wolf outside of these closures can be killed."
- Created on Tuesday, 23 August 2016 17:51
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
On June 15, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) announced that Canada's rarest wolf faces a higher risk of extinction than previously thought. Now named 'Algonquin Wolves', after their stronghold population in Algonquin Provincial Park, the wolves were upgraded from Special Concern to Threatened status in Ontario.
In a press released issued by the organization Earthroots, it says that under Ontario's Endangered Species Act, Threatened status affords the wolves and their habitat immediate and automatic protection from harvest. However, the release warns, under existing regulations, the wolves will continue to be killed in unknown numbers in legal wolf/coyote open seasons.
"Outside of Algonquin Park, Algonquin wolves are largely unable to find a mate of their own kind, and more commonly mate with eastern coyotes. This interbreeding makes it impossible to tell the difference between the two animals without a genetic test," said Lesley Sampson of Coyote Watch Canada. "MNRF does not require these tests, and therefore has no idea how many Algonquin wolves are being killed each year. Algonquin wolf recovery requires a government commitment to protect the eastern coyotes they live alongside and are often confused for."
As the last representatives of the once wide ranging Eastern Wolf species, Algonquin wolves have been found infrequently across central Ontario and western Quebec, numbering somewhere between 250 and 1,000 animals. Naïve to the risks associated with humans - hunting, trapping and vehicle collisions - the animals' survival is low outside of protected areas. MNRF's own research shows that without more protection in Ontario, where most of the wolves are found, recovery is virtually impossible.
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