Ontario to test mercury levels in waterways near Grassy Narrows

Initial testing will take place between Dryden and Ball Lake.

June 28, 2016   by Leslie Keith

TORONTO — Ontario agreed to spend $300,000 to test mercury levels in fish and in the sediment of the English and Wabigoon River system following a meeting between two Liberal cabinet ministers and leaders of the Grassy Narrows First Nation.

Environment Minister Glen Murray and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister David Zimmer issued a statement following their visit to the remote northern community near the Manitoba border, saying the province would work with Grassy Narrows on the English-Wabigoon Remediation Project.

The initial mercury testing will take place between Dryden and Ball Lake.

“This field work has been identified by the Grassy Narrows council as their top priority and we will work with the community to ensure that it begins immediately,” the ministers said.


A chemical plant in Dryden dumped 9,000 kilograms of mercury in local waterways in the 1960s, but a recent report found levels remain dangerously high even though the plant closed in the 1970s, and suggested there may be an ongoing source of contamination.

“We agreed on the need for immediate and collaborative action based on the recommendations of the recently released report prepared for Grassy Narrows First Nation,” the ministers said.

The government promised the remediation project “will consider traditional ecological knowledge” and respect for the traditions and wisdom of the local First Nation leadership.
It also vowed to “get to the bottom” of claims by a former worker at the Dryden plant who said he helped bury 50 barrels of mercury and salt at the long defunct operation.

“We will conduct a geophysical assessment of the area that will allow us to verify whether barrels are buried beneath the surface,” said the ministers.

“Our findings will be shared with the community as soon as possible, and we will take immediate action if evidence confirms the existence of any of the buried barrels or other new sources of mercury contamination at this site.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne had said she wanted to clean up the mercury contamination that has plagued Grassy Narrows for decades, but doesn’t want to make the situation worse.

“I am deadly serious about this,” said Wynne. “I want this to happen, but I am not going to go ahead unless we’re sure that we’re not going to do more damage.”

Zimmer and Murray’s statement said the field testing will provide “the critical information needed to develop options to remediate the English-Wabigoon River system.”

“Ontario will work with Chief (Simon) Fobister and the community to develop this key piece,” the statement said.

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