“Premier Wynne, will you clean up our river”

“As we’re waiting for the river to be cleaned… our relatives are dying. That’s not a lie. That’s the truth.” – Judy DaSilva, Grassy Narrows

The Grassy Narrows First Nation in Northwestern Ontario is living with the consequences of one of the worst, and most neglected environmental disasters in Canadian history.

In the 1960s, an upstream pulp and paper mill was allowed to dump an estimated 9 metric tonnes of mercury into the river system. The poisoning of the English and Wabigoon river system has led to severe health problems for the people of Grassy Narrows who were once able to rely on the rivers for a vital source of healthy, wild food.

More than three decades ago, a joint federal-provincial study concluded that it was possible to make the river safer by reducing the rate at which the mercury would leave the sediment and enter the food chain. In the words of one of the scientists involved in that study, the recommendation to clean up the river “has gathered dust” for more than thirty years.

A new provincially-funded study, that has been in the hands of government for a month, but which was just made public on Monday, confirms that cleaning up the English-Wabigoon river system is both possible and necessary. In fact, the new study found that the province’s strategy of waiting for natural processes to disperse or contain the mercury has not worked: mercury in the river system is as much a threat today as it was 30 years ago. The report calls for interventions such as increasing the amount of clay sediment to trap more of the mercury.

Community members from Grassy Narrows are in Toronto all this week to demand that the provincial government not put off action any longer.

Speaking today at a press conference in Toronto, community member Judy DaSilva said, “We don’t have any more time, We’re already been poisoned. It’s about all of  the young people and those children who have not yet been born. It’s about them having a chance at a good life.”

Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister said, “The ball is in the Premier’s court. We don’t want just words, we want action.”

At the press conference, the call for clean-up was supported by Chiefs of Ontario, the David Suzuki Foundation and Amnesty International. But in fact the call for  justice for the people of Grassy Narrows is much larger still.

To add your voice, please sign our online appeal.