Between 1962 and 1970, a pulp and paper mill in Dryden dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon-English River system, about 100 kilometres upstream from Grassy Narrows.
In 1983, a scientific report predicted fish in the area would be contaminated for generations if the mercury wasn’t cleaned up. In 1984, the provincial Environment Minister actually recommended a clean-up, but no significant action was taken under that government, or the ones to follow.
Now, more than 30 years after the provincial and federal governments learned that Grassy Narrows land and water was contaminated with mercury, the situation remains serious.
The people of Grassy Narrows and the nearby White Dog First Nation relied on the river system and its lakes for food and jobs. The mercury contamination not only affected local economies, but also health. As recently as 2014, the Ontario government acknowledged “symptoms consistent with mercury poisoning” in Grassy Narrows.
The Canadian Labour Congress is standing with the affected communities in calling for a long-overdue joint clean-up effort by the Ontario and federal governments.
The decades of inaction by successive governments are a stain on Canada’s human rights and environmental record.
Recent scientific research shows promising ways forward to address the contamination. It is only a lack of political will preventing Grassy Narrows’ river clean-up.