Grassy Narrows First Nation releases health report detailing fallout from poisoned fish

Officials with Grassy Narrows First Nation are scheduled to publicly release findings of a new report linking a number of “grave” health problems in the community linked to eating contaminated fish.

The study was done by environmental health expert Donna Mergler, a member of a World Health Organization-affiliated research group. The community commissioned her to study the fallout of eating fish caught from nearby waterways, which were contaminated by decades-old mercury pollution.

Grassy Narrows is located about 100 kilometres northeast of Kenora. Advocates for the community say it remains one of Canada’s worst examples of the effects of legacy pollution. Former owners of a mill upstream in Dryden dumped mercury-laden industrial effluent into the English-Wabigoon River system in the 1960s and early 1970s.

That contamination closed a thriving commercial fishery in the early 1970s and devastated Grassy Narrows’s economy. Subsequently, with few local economic opportunities and little money, residents have continued to eat the fish over the years.

A report by fresh water scientist Patricia Sellers in 2015 found mercury levels still rising in some nearby lakes. Japanese researchers found more than 90 per cent of the populations of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations show signs of poisoning.

Advocates say Mergler’s report is an “authoritative” study on the impacts residents face due to eating mercury-contaminated fish. The report will also include a number of recommendations for government action.

The province has previously committed $85 million for the remediation of the river, with the money being secured in a trust fund.

Grassy Narrows commissioned a noted environmental health expert to extensively study the health of the community’s residents. (Jody Porter/CBC)

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