Mercury threat rising in Ontario

    Northern mining may compromise health of Ontario fish-eaters

    TORONTO, March 6 /CNW/ - On the heels of a major international mining
convention in Toronto, a broad coalition of environmental groups, First
Nations and academics are demanding that the Ontario Government investigate
the looming threat of mercury contamination from industrial activities in the
province's Boreal Forest.
    The groups highlight research that suggests dramatic changes in water
levels associated with mining operations will release vast amounts of mercury
into the local environment, contaminating fish and wildlife and ultimately
poisoning humans.
    "Industrial activities such as mines, hydroelectric dams and logging in
the Boreal Forest will fundamentally change the landscape and will cause
mercury to be released," said Dr. Lean, Professor of Ecotoxicology of the
University of Ottawa. "What is most troubling is that this increased risk of
mercury contamination was not accounted for in the environmental assessment of
the region's first approved large diamond mining operation - Debeers Victor
Diamond Mine, near Attawapiskat."
    Mercury accumulates in soil and plants and is transformed into
methylmercury. Fish such as pike, walleye, bass and trout accumulate
methylmercury at levels thousands of times higher than in the surrounding
water. In humans, mercury exposure has significant neurological and
developmental effects, such as learning disabilities, birth defects, tremors,
and cerebral palsy.
    In the late 1960s, a pulp and paper mill began contaminating the
English-Wabigoon River with mercury. The plant has since closed, but community
members still continue to struggle with debilitating health problems. "Our
people are still struggling with mercury poisoning from more than 30 years
ago, not to mention the additional impacts of mercury released from clearcut
logging on our lands" said Steve Fobister, Councillor, from Grassy Narrows
First Nation who is in Toronto today. "Enough is enough. The government must
act now to better protect us from further mercury contamination."
    The groups' complaints are documented in an Application for Review filed
under Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights, filed recently on behalf of
CPAWS Wildlands League by Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund).
    "Methylmercury is a potent neurotoxin that is highly toxic to human
beings and wildlife," said Anna Baggio, Director, Conservation Land Use
Planning, CPAWS Wildlands League. "We demand that the province begin rigorous
monitoring of mercury levels in northern communities and the Boreal Forest and
ensure that potential health and environmental impacts of methylmercury are
analyzed prior to approving additional industrial operations."
    "The Ministry of Environment uses an outdated water quality standard for
mercury, which does not even meet the inadequate minimum national standard,"
said Dr. Anastasia Lintner, Staff Lawyer and Economist from Ecojustice. "What
Ontario needs is an overarching action plan on mercury. Ontario needs to act
now, before the mercury rises."

For further information:

For further information: Anna Baggio, Director, CPAWS Wildlands League,
(cell) (416) 453-3285; Steve Fobister, Councillor, Grassy Narrows First
Nation, (cell) (807) 466-3669; Dr. David Lean, Professor of Ecotoxicology,
Centre for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics, Department of Biology,
University of Ottawa, (cell) (613) 889-0528; Dr. Anastasia Lintner, Staff
Lawyer and Economist, Ecojustice, (416) 368-7533 ext.25; For more information

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