New Japanese Report on Mercury Poisoning Effects

Miner and News | Tuesday, September 20, 2016 6:08:31 EDT PM

Another report that details the long-term damage from mercury contamination has politicians and community leaders demanding immediate action from the Ontario government.

Ontario NDP environment critic Peter Tabuns and Indigenous affairs critic France Gélinas released a joint statement on a new Japanese report on mercury exposure in Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong Independent Nations on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

“It took researchers from halfway across the world to undertake this serious study, while the Wynne government continues to stall on taking action, putting families and the future of these communities at risk,” the statement said.

Wabaseemoong hosted Japanese researchers Dr. Masanori Hanada and Dr. Naoki Morishita on Friday, Sept. 16 as they shared the results of their 2014 preliminary report.

Japanese experts have been studying the contamination in the affected area since the 1970s, based on their own experience studying similar contamination and its effects in Minamata, Japan. Methylmercury poisoning is referred to as Minamata disease in the report.

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TORONTO, ON - JUNE 29: Mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows First Nations in Ontario. (Todd Korol/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Chief John Paishk said in a press release that the meeting was “an important step in the ongoing process to modernize the measures in place to protect the environment and address serious health issues and risks faced by Wabaseemoong members.”

The report released on Friday only includes a portion of the complete findings as comprehensive quantitative and qualitative data is still being examined in detail.

The environmental team found mercury levels in sampled fish have only decreased gradually since the 1970s and the total mercury value in each fish often exceeded 0.4 parts per million, which is the provisional standard set by the Japanese government.

Meanwhile, the medical team found the incidence of tactile sensory disturbances, a symptom of mercury poisoning, to be extremely high.

The report said the numbers indicate that a large portion of both Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong populations have health impairments due to the effects of mercury, which is consistent with findings from the 2002-2004 and 2010 studies.

Based on the results, the report concluded that further studies and an ongoing discussion between Japanese doctors, Canadian doctors and the Mercury Disability Board must continue.

The report also said the extent of the damage caused by mercury poisoning in the two First Nations can be attributed to three major factors: a history of persecution of Indigenous peoples, forced relocation without the knowledge that a pulp and paper mill was upstream, and destruction of livelihood.

“We therefore believe that the solution to the problem of Minamata disease in Canada must be based on the resolution of the hardships the indigenous peoples have experienced so far,” the report said.