Inuit people in Labrador who depend on the Lake Melville estuary to hunt and fish are concerned about the impact of a large hydro-electric dam being built upstream. They are particularly concerned that the dam will lead to methylmercury contamination of fish and seals, rendering them unsafe to eat.
The Inuit government of Nunatsiavut has not opposed the Muskrat Falls dam. But it has called for rigorous measures to protect the health and livelihoods of its people. These measures include a full clearing of the reservoir before flooding to reduce the amount of methylmercury produced, establishment of a downstream monitoring program designed and overseen by an independent expert advisory committee; and significant Inuit participation in high-level environmental monitoring and management decisions.
These concerns are underlined by a recently published study from Harvard University. The study found higher than expected levels of methylmercury already flowing into Lake Melville. The scientists concluded that a combination of environmental factors has created conditions in which mercury is more likely to accumulate in the food chain. And in a simulation of the effects of flooding in the area scheduled to be inundated by the Muskrat Falls dam, the same team of scientists found that even in ideal conditions, the levels of methylmercury flowing into Lake Melville will increase by 25 to 200 percent.
In an open letter published today, Amnesty International Canada called on the three political parties running in the upcoming Newfoundland and Labrador elections to commit to working with the Nunatsiavut to address these serious concerns for the health and culture of the Inuit people.