River Run flows to Toronto: Impacts of mercury poison at Grassy Narrows First Nation not recognized by government
By Jon Thompson - June 4, 2012
Decades after the Dryden paper mill ceased dumping mercury into the watershed, Grassy Narrows First Nation (Asubpeeschoseewagong) is still living downstream.
The First Nation kicked off the week-long River Run with a press conference in Toronto on Monday, appealing to have Minamata Disease and the effects of mercury that still impact the community recognized.
Masanori Hanada was in Grassy Narrows on Friday, prior to the journey to Toronto, where he and Chief Simon Fobister will meet with new Treaty 3 Grand Chief Warren White, Grassy environmental activists Judy DaSilva and Chrissy Swain as well as Edmond Jack and others who walked from the First Nation to the Ontario capital over the past month.
The director for the Center For Minamata Studies pointed out while Canada and Ontario recognize symptoms of mercury poisoning, they aren't recognizing Minimata Disease that his team has found in the citizens of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) First Nations.
Hanada presented the updated results of his colleague Dr. Masazumi Harada's study in the territory over three decades, which found over a third of the 73 residents of Grassy Narrows and 87 from Wabaseemoong suffered from insomnia, vision and hearing problems, fatigue and numbness in the limbs. The scope of those symptoms had expanded since the 2004 report, which found 72 per cent experienced numbness and 61 per cent had pain in their limbs. His report points out cases were difficult to diagnose because symptoms continued to change but estimated a third of the target group would be diagnosed with minamata in Japan and another quarter would be possible candidates.
"I think there is injustice in two senses," Hanada explained. "The body is effected, they have some disease and they have lost their way of life because of the mercury poisoning. I think for a long time, this social aspect is more important because they can do something with effected bodies. Of course, they have headaches but they've lost their job, they've lost their way of life, etc. How can they re-establish? This is not their own problem. They have to solve it with local authorities."
Mercury in the industrial wastewater of Japanese company Chisso from 1932 to 1968 at Minamata formed a sea-bound area 60 kms longer and 20 kms wider than the river and lake flowing from Dryden to Wabaseemoong. In response, Japanese victims of Minamata received $800,000 (all figures in USD) in 1971 and continue to receive between $2,000 and $8,000 per month, on top of free medical care and acupuncture.
In 1984, Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong were paid a combined $10 million in compensation but Chief Fobister doesn't believe that closes the book on compensation nor the government's responsibility to recognize minamata and clean up the river system.
"Mercury poisoning is here to stay and our citizens have been poisoned," he said. "The poison is still with us today and that needs to be addressed by both levels of government, Ontario and Canada. Our citizens have not been compensated adequately. There has to be recognition that there is minamata disease in Canada and both levels of government have not acknowledged that."
Environment Canada's analysis of the river system not only disagrees with the center for minamata studies research but government has argued the cost of recovery or flushing the system would not only be prohibitive, but it may actually disturb the riverbed and exacerbate the poisoning.
"To be fair with Ontario, they did meet with us to address our concerns but we didn't hear back from them. That was before the election - so we're going to remind them."