- Published on Monday, 04 June 2012 01:00
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Government refuses to acknowledge Minamata Disease in Canada
Toronto – Fifty years after a Dryden paper mill began dumping 10 tonnes of toxic mercury into Grassy Narrows’ English-Wabigoon river, a newly translated report by renowned Japanese mercury expert Dr. Harada indicates that the Indigenous people of Grassy Narrows are still suffering from the debilitating health impacts of this neurotoxin, including many born after the dumping was banned in 1970. The government of Ontario allowed the dumping but refuses to acknowledge that there have been any cases of the methyl mercury poisoning called Minamata Disease (MD).
59% of 160 people examined in Grassy Narrows and Whitedog were found to be impacted by mercury poisoning. 44% of people aged 21-41 were impacted, even though they were born after dumping was banned. "It is an undoubtable fact that Minamata disease occurred in [Grassy Narrows and Whitedog], based on our long-term investigation result." [Harada et al., 2011]
PRESS CONFERENCE TODAY
Where, when: 11:00 AM Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil St. (South of College, East of Spadina)
Speakers: Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister, Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse, Dr. Hanada (report co-author), Grassy Narrows mother Judy Da Silva, and Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International.
“Our people are still sick from the ongoing impacts of the mercury poison that the government allowed to be dumped in our river,” said Chief Simon Fobister of Grassy Narrows. “While our people suffer Ontario has made plans to continue the destruction of our culture, livelihood, and health through another decade of clearcut logging in our forest against our will. This logging would add even more mercury poison to our fish.”
74% of the people Dr. Harada diagnosed as impacted by mercury in Grassy Narrows and White Dog were not receiving any support from the Mercury Disability Board established in 1986. Common neurological symptoms include sensory impairment, unsteadiness, and tremors. Even those with the most severe symptoms receive a maximum of $250 - $800 per month, an amount worth half what it was in 1986 because it is not indexed to inflation.
“The government and industry take away our forests and give us back disease and sickness and death,” said Judy Da Silva, a Grassy Narrows mother and blockader. “The government must listen when we say ‘no’ to the pollution and industrial logging of our homeland so that we can rebuild what has been taken from us and take care of our people.”
Grassy Narrows, and their supporters, are demanding that government:
RESPONSIBILITY: Acknowledge mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows, apologize, and accept responsibility to fix what was broken.
SAFETY: Fund a permanent Grassy Narrows run environmental health monitoring center. Strengthen Health Canada mercury safety guideline to protect all people.
COMPENSATION: Compensate all people diagnosed by the Japanese doctors, and retroactively index the compensation to inflation.
RESTORATION: Clean and restore the English-Wabigoon river system. Stop the mills from polluting the water and air.
JUSTICE: Restore Grassy Narrows control over Grassy Narrows Territory. End destructive industrial logging on Grassy Narrows territory.
For more information go to FreeGrassy.org
For high-res photos and video contact: 647-783-3552
Renowned Japanese mercury expert Dr. Harada first visited the Indigenous communities of Grassy Narrows and Whitedog in 1975. He found people with mercury levels over 3 times the Health Canada limit in Grassy Narrows, and 7 times the limit in Whitedog. When he returned in 2004 he found that 43% of his original Grassy Narrows patients were dead, including all those who had mercury levels above the Health Canada guidelines in 1975.
Between 1962 and 1970 the Dryden mill dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon River, a practice that was allowed by the province. The people of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows), Wabaseemoong (Whitedog), and some members of Wabauskang First Nation who lived at Quibell were downstream and were hurt by the health, social, and economic impacts of this poison. Overnight unemployment in Grassy Narrows skyrocketed, a sacred food staple was lost, and the source of disturbing neurological health conditions became apparent. Mercury levels in Grassy Narrows fish have yet to return to safe levels.
A 2005 study of Grassy Narrows and Whitedog people by Dr. Harada found that Health Canada safety guidelines are too weak to protect people from the cumulative long-term health impacts of low level mercury exposure, which is now ubiquitous worldwide due to industrial pollution from sources such as chemical plants, coal burning power plants, and incinerators.
In 2010 the elderly Dr. Harada returned for his final visit to Grassy Narrows and Whitedog. He examined 160 people of all ages for the health impacts of mercury poisoning, something Health Canada has not done in over a decade. The results of his study give the most current and authoritative scientific assessment of the impacts of mercury on the people of Grassy Narrows and Whitedog. The report was published in Japan in 2011, and will be released in English for the first time at the press conference on June 4. Report co-author Dr. Hanada is Toronto to release the new report.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin which accumulates in the food chain and whose health impacts include tunnel vision, loss of coordination, numbness in the extremities, tremors, loss of balance, and speech impediments.