Grassy Narrows holds protest at Dryden mill

DRYDEN – On Thursday, Grassy Narrows First Nation members took their fight to the source of the mercury contamination that has affected them for more than 50 years.

Chief Rudy Turtle joined Grassy Narrows residents and supporters in a protest in front of Dryden’s paper mill, where tonnes of mercury was discharged into the Wabigoon River in the 1960s and ’70s.

The mill stopped releasing mercury decades ago, but the mercury hasn’t entirely gone away.

Recent research has found that sulfates and organic matter released by the mill have been elevating levels of methylmercury, an especially dangerous form of mercury.

“Something needs to be done,” Turtle told Dougall Media.

The province needs to step in for the well-being of people in Grassy Narrows and the mill needs to cease operations if it can’t stop the pollution, he said.

Turtle said he understands the mill’s importance to Dryden’s local economy.

“I understand that people have jobs at the mill, but also they need to understand we're being poisoned,” he said.

“So there has to be some kind of a balance struck between the two.

“That's why I'm saying that the practices of the mill need to be reviewed so we're no longer being poisoned.”

There’s more than one side to the issue, he said.

“I'm just asking that some action be taken to rectify the situation.”

A previous owner of the mill released an estimated nine tonnes of mercury from the mill into the river, and the mercury contaminated fish downstream.

A public health catastrophe followed in the 1970s as Grassy Narrows First Nation members ate contaminated fish and suffered serious effects from it.

Many were diagnosed with Minamata disease, a neurological disorder with symptoms including numbness in hands and feet, muscle weakness, damage to hearing and sight, and problems in muscle control.

A study published recently in the journal Environmental Health found mercury poisoning continues to have a profound impact on the physical and mental health of people in Grassy Narrows.

Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source