Jayme Poisson is filling in for Kenyon Wallace, the Star’s transparency reporter, for the next few weeks. He had been having some health issues, he explained, and that’s why he hadn’t gotten back to us. Star Newspapers Limited and/or its licensors. 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We had no luck at the gas station, grocery and hardware store where most people in the small-town community of 4,000 had an account. Republication or distribution of this content is READ MORE: And so, when we were heading to the National Newspaper Awards in Edmonton in May 2016, David suggested we rent a car to try to track him down. The pharmacist called and left a message, but refused to give us the number. Also in Ottawa on Thursday, Grassy Narrows First Nations Chief Rudy Turtle reiterated his call for the federal government to put $88.7 million, the estimated cost for a specialized health facility for residents affected by mercury contamination, into a trust fund. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include loss of muscle co-ordination, slurred speech and tunnel vision. Justin Trudeau appearance interrupted by protester from Grassy Narrows First Nation. Canada has kept the issue on the back-burner for half a century, Turtle said, adding he believes the situation would have been addressed long ago if Grassy Narrows were a non-Indigenous community. Still, neither of us could let go of that nagging feeling this could be more. “Even while I’m speaking today, there’s people suffering in many community,” he said. Grassy Narrows worries about Liberals’ promise to help with mercury contamination. The community has been dealing with mercury poisoning for over 50 years after Dryden Chemicals Ltd., a pulp and paper mill, polluted the English-Wabigoon river system with untreated neurotoxic mercury between 1962 and 1970. to colleagues, clients or customers, or inquire about Keith Conn, an assistant deputy minister for the First Nations and Inuit health branch of Indigenous Services, told a parliamentary committee on Thursday that creating a trust fund would take an “inordinate amount of time” and cause more delays. The heavy metal can be passed from mothers to babies they carry, making it a problem that lasts generations. In 1962, Dryden Chemicals Ltd. began operating a chlor-alkali plant in Dryden, Ontario. We tried the local bar. If true, it would be bombshell information. Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said Thursday he will work with Grassy Narrows to sign an agreement on the fate of the facility even though the two sides could not reach a deal when he visited the First Nation last week. presentation-ready copies of Toronto Star content for distribution Last week, environmental organization Earthroots came out with evidence of mercury contamination upstream from the Grassy Narrows First Nation. We thought Glowacki lived in or near Carstairs because researchers at the Star had found a post office box registered to a man with the same name there. READ MORE: He knew we were in Alberta. Today, almost 90 percent of Grassy Narrows community members suffer from symptoms of mercury poisoning. Decades of promises, but little action as mercury still takes lives in Grassy Narrows Apr 03, 2019 It’s been half a century since a pulp and paper mill in Dryden, Ont. For political parties, it’s a federal election issue. By the time it stopped in 1970, about 10 tonnes of … One study estimated that 90 per cent of the population suffers from some degree of mercury poisoning, which can cause everything from cognitive impairments to hearing loss and emotional changes. Between 1962 and 1970, the Dryden Chemical Paper Mill dumped ten tonnes of waste mercury into the Wabigoon-English River, approximately 320km upstream from the Asubpeeschoseewagong Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Grassy Narrows First Nation) community. Please see our Commenting Policy for more. OTTAWA – The case of a northern Ontario First Nation plagued by mercury contamination is “emblematic” of an overall pattern of inaction in the face of grave risks to the health of Indigenous Peoples, a United Nations human-rights expert said Thursday – the same day the community’s chief came to Ottawa to urge action. READ MORE: Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, said he has heard during a two-week tour with various stops that members of Grassy Narrows First Nation are frustrated and they’re suffering from mercury contamination. Earlier this year, we discovered with the help of an environmental group called Earthroots that there are higher than normal levels of mercury behind the old Dryden mill in the same spot Glowacki circled on a map. Trudeau apologizes after telling First Nations mercury poisoning protester, ‘Thank you for your donation’. The story of Kas Glowacki and the alleged dump led us to new sources in the Grassy Narrows, science and legal communities and new information that shed light on decades of government stalling and dissembling. Meet Judy DaSilva – mother, indigenous woman, water defender. Our editors decided that while we couldn’t prove it was true, it was credible and certainly worth further investigation by the proper officials. Toronto Star articles, please go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.com, The Toronto Star and thestar.com, each property of Toronto Star KENORA – Grassy Narrows First Nation is getting a treatment centre for Mercury poisoning and issues resulting from long-term exposure to the element from the waters of the English River – Wabigoon Water system. “Strong leaders like Steve Fobister Sr., Simon Fobister and so many others have fought to establish a mercury care facility and, tragically, did not see it come to fruition. Instead, Conn told MPs the government wants to pursue a contractual agreement. We were parked on the side of the road just outside Carstairs, Alta., feeling pretty dejected when the call came through. Nothing. Half a century later residents of Grassy Narrows are still grappling with the long term health, social, and economic impacts. “I have and will continue to support Grassy Narrows First Nation,” said Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald. Here, Poisson provides a first-hand account of how she and colleague David Bruser started looking into mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows. Grassy Narrows’ legacy of mercury poisoning began in 1962, when the paper plant in Dryden, then owned by Reed Paper, began to dump mercury into the river about 100 kilometres upstream from the First Nation’s home. A study published on April 27 th by the … Colleague David Bruser and I had made the three-hour drive from Edmonton that morning. Jody Wilson-Raybould says she has to acknowledge that PM apologized for Grassy Narrows, Jody Wilson-Raybould says she has to acknowledge that PM apologized for Grassy Narrows – Apr 5, 2019, Unemployment benefits for millions expire as Trump refuses to sign COVID-19 relief bill, Ontario confirms Canada’s 1st known cases of U.K. coronavirus variant, Steve Fobister remembered as leader, activist, Steve Fobister remembered as leader, activist – Oct 25, 2018, Canada reports first cases of U.K. coronavirus variant. permissions/licensing, please go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.com. The email had been flipped to us via a source who was working closely with the community. “We are being poisoned by mercury and our people are suffering and I think that things should be called as they are.”, Get a roundup of the most important and intriguing stories, delivered to your inbox, Mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows example of government ‘inaction’: UN human rights expert. Through our recently launched trust initiative, we’ve received many emails from readers asking how we choose and pursue investigations and how we come to trust the information our sources give. Government agencies responsible for the cleanup and study of the mercury pollution in the Wabigoon River system fear that dredging the sediments in the Wabigoon River may increase the levels of mercury downstream. Grassy Narrows First Nation elder Brenda Kokokopenace, background, raises a finger as community members wait outside the band office while Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan and Chief Rudy Turtle discuss the terms of an agreement for a mercury health care facility May 29. We knew we needed to meet him in person to help us better assess his credibility. Stopping this pollution, and compensating those affected, was one of the great environmental causes of the 1970s and early 80s. The need to address mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows dates back some 50 years, he said. Military aid being ‘drawn down’ in Pikangikum as wildfire slows. Indigenous Services Minister and Grassy Narrows chief discuss proposed agreement, medical facility. Soil samples that showed hundreds of times the mercury level of a nearby uncontaminated site were taken from an area behind the Dryden paper mill where former mill worker Kas Glowacki said he buried 50 barrels of mercury and salt in 1972. READ MORE: Correction – June 5, 2017: This article was edited from a previous version that misspelled Kas Glowacki’s surname in one instance. Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows) and the federal government recently signed a framework agreement for $19.5 million in funding for construction of a mercury care home, supporting a community-envisioned design. Grassy Narrows elder: ‘When you have mercury you have it for life’ – Dec 3, 2019 Bowater, which eventually became Resolute, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009. That next day in Medicine Hat, at Glowacki’s bungalow, we weren’t sure what to expect. rights reserved. The people of Grassy Narrows have suffered from symptoms of mercury poisoning for more than four decades and scientists had been saying elevated mercury levels in fish and sediment … He argued that such a fund would ensure the project moves ahead no matter the results of the October federal election – a move supported by former Indigenous-services minister Jane Philpott, now an Independent MP. The people of Grassy Narrows have been told by doctors that they are sick. The plant used mercury to manufacture chlorine, which was in turn used to bleach paper at the Dryden Paper Company Ltd. During the 1960s, the Dryden pulp and paper mill, operated by Reed Paper, dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon River that feeds Grassy Narrows and nearby Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) Independent Nations. Copyright owned or licensed by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. Top scientists, leading authors like Margaret Atwood and Vincent Lam and others have called on the government to clean the river. “It (the trust fund) is an extraordinary measure but I believe that under the circumstances, extraordinary measures are called for,” she said. Had he gotten cold feet? We didn’t know if his story would ring true. The pharmacy had an old account for Glowacki’s wife. I asked Glowacki this week why he decided to meet with us that day. Residents of Grassy Narrows First Nation, about 100 kilometres northeast of Kenora, Ont., have grappled with long-standing mental and physical health issues due to toxic mercury levels in the nearby English-Wabigoon River. Once we had a general location, an online Canada411 entry gave us an address about 20 kilometres away. Grassy Narrows should have the facility it’s been seeking for some time, Philpott said in an interview Thursday, adding the federal government made a commitment to move ahead with it when she was minister. It was Kas Glowacki. expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Toronto Grassy Narrows is an Ojibwe First Nation located 55 kilometres northeast of Kenora, Ont. “I am committed to working with Chief Turtle and council and committed to getting this right,” O’Regan said in a statement. DRYDEN / TORONTO – “I am shocked to hear that mercury contaminated soil has been found behind the mill after Ontario assured us that the hidden mercury dump reported by Kas Glowacki did not exist,” says Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister. A First Nation of about 650 people near Ontario’s border with Manitoba, Grassy Narrows’ water was contaminated by tonnes of mercury dumped into its water system by an upstream paper mill. We learned and have revealed, among other things, that in 1984 the provincial government was told by its own environment minister that the lakes near Grassy Narrows can and should be cleaned; that Health Canada is keeping secret records that would say which babies tested high for mercury poisoning; and that the fish eaten today by the people of Grassy Narrows are the most mercury-contaminated in the province. Judy is 55 years old, mother to five children, and a resident of Grassy Narrows in Ontario, Canada.She and the other First Nations people have built their way of life around the Wabigoon River, a breathtaking body of water which sweeps through the forested hills surrounding the Grassy Narrows reservation. “We need an immediate investigation into mercury at the whole Dryden mill site by our trusted … While the province has promised a clean-up, they have recently been accused of stalling. Kenora-Rainy River MP Greg Rickford offers insight and comments on this important move to help the people in Grassy Narrows. In the 1960s, the Dryden Chemical Company used mercury in a process to create the materials needed to bleach paper at a paper mill along the English-Wabigoon River, just 320 kilometers upstream from Grassy Narrows. Email your questions to trust@thestar.ca. [22] And likely, he needed to meet us to assess our credibility before talking. That was the beginning of what has become a year’s worth of reporting on mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows. What I didn’t know until now is that he had received a call from his former neighbour who told him there were “two characters trying to track me down for poisoning with arsenic.” We’d likely confused the neighbour with our impromptu appearance and Glowacki said he wanted to “get the facts straight, before my former neighbours thought I was someone sinister.”, About his decision to go public, he says he weighed the pros and cons and decided “that the whole thing should be more realistic with a face to the name.”, This story is part of a Star series exploring how the newsroom operates. 1962: Dryden Chemical, relying on a mercury-based process to produce bleaching agents for the paper mill nearby, begins dumping untreated mercury waste into the Wabigoon River. Grassy Narrows youth were one of ten global cases focused on young human rights defenders leading the charge for change in their communities. Newspapers Limited, One Yonge Street, 4th floor, Toronto, ON, M5E 1E6, most mercury-contaminated in the province. The people of Grassy Narrows have suffered from symptoms of mercury poisoning for more than four decades and scientists had been saying elevated mercury levels in fish and sediment today suggest there is an ongoing source. That’s when my cellphone rang. He was at an impasse trying to reach Glowacki, who described himself as a former mill employee. The address we found turned out to be Glowacki’s old house. GRASSY NARROWS — Recent reports have raised alarm over the impact of mercury poisoning on those who eat fish from the lakes and rivers surrounding Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows First Nation), located 80 kilometres north of Kenora — but despite the risks, many residents continue to eat the fish: there are simply too few other options for food. This copy is for your personal non-commercial use only. The following day we made the six-hour drive. Rudy Turtle, chief of the Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario, is seen here on the reserve on Friday, May 18, 2018. Tuncak said the case should have been the “highest of priorities” and the government has failed to explain its “inaction.”. To order copies of Grassy Narrows and Whitedog, communities of roughly 1,500, are 100 km downstream from the site of the old mill. Fish, their main source of food, contained extremely high levels of mercury from toxic dumping by the Dryden Chemicals pulp and paper mill upstream (Kraus 2013). “I think the fact of the matter is the prime minister and Seamus O’Regan have refused to acknowledge that we have a mercury problem,” he said, stressing terminology “definitely” matters to the community. He said we could come over. It was about this time last year. Tuncak, an American chemist and lawyer, also said he is left with a question about discrimination. More than 400,000 letters of support from around the world called for justice for Grassy Narrows and contributed to the successful signing of an agreement to build a mercury care home. Mercury levels in Grassy Narrows fish have yet to return to safe levels. Fetuses are particularly vulnerable to cognitive damage. For example, he said he was certain of the year because he had just had a baby). By the afternoon, we’d exhausted all our options. 1963: The community of Grassy Narrows is moved several kilometres south by order of the federal government to make the reserve accessible by provincial roads. Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous … The discovery of mercury poisoning in 1970 was a devastating blow to Grassy Narrows. Another central issue is the federal government does not want to call the facility a “mercury treatment home” but rather an assisted-living facility, Turtle said Thursday. He is to present his conclusions and recommendations to an upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council. So have many in Wabaseemoong Independent Nations, also known as Whitedog First Nation, about 130 kilometres away. Both Grassy Narrows and Whitedog, a different community which is part of Wabaseemoong Independent Nations, are downstream from the pollution, which is not yet resolved. The government put out a press release ahead of his visit stating a signing ceremony would take place but after more than four hours of talks, no agreement was reached. The potent neurotoxin contaminated … As a result, the people of Grassy Narrows and Whitedog were negatively affected and suffered from mercury poisoning, one variant of which is called Minamata disease (it originally occurred in Japan in the Minamata Bay area during 1952–60). Tuncak released preliminary findings on Thursday about his tour, which involved visiting communities affected by toxins. Tuncak, an American chemist and lawyer, also said he is left with a question about discrimination. Fifty years on, the First Nation is still feeling the effects, and awaiting appropriate government action. Glowacki told us his story with confidence, great detail and consistency (David questioned his memory several times, and he’d always come back with a good reason he remembered something. If it did, we didn’t know whether he would go on the record with his claims. The neighbour took our cards and said she would try to reach him, but made no promises. (The barrels Glowacki says he buried have yet to be found, though experts say they could be rusted through.). A group of scientists that studied the former chlor-alkali plant in 2017 concluded there is “strong evidence that the old plant is still leaking old mercury into the river.” Paper Mill in Dryden Ontario. Due to the sensitive and/or legal subject matter of some of the content on globalnews.ca, we reserve the ability to disable comments from time to time. The Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows First Nation) people have lived with the consequences of one of the worst cases of environmental poisoning in Canadian history. However, the mercury was never removed from the water and continues to affect the health of Grassy Narrows residents. READ MORE: The day ended up being one bust after another. A First Nation of about 650 people near Ontario’s border with Manitoba, Grassy Narrows’ water was contaminated by tonnes of mercury dumped into its water system by an upstream paper mill. Between 1962 and 1970, the company dumped an estimated 9,000 kg of untreated mercury into the English-Wabigoon river system, upstream from Grassy Narrows and Whitedog First Nations. A chloralkali plant, built in Dryden, ON, Canada in 1962, discharged 10 000 kg of mercury (Hg) into the extensive English-Wabigoon water system, 1 David and I tried for weeks to reach Glowacki from Toronto by email. For Grassy Narrows families, mercury is an intergenerational trauma. Was the whole thing a hoax? All Yet another recent scientific report on the issue has cautioned that mercury levels in fish — a main food staple for the two communities — and sediment in the area are still dangerously high. It was late afternoon, and we’d spent the day chasing what felt like the ghost of Kas Glowacki — a man we only knew as the mystery email author who had months earlier written “out of guilt” to the Chief of Grassy Narrows claiming that in 1972 he had dumped mercury-filled barrels behind a mill upstream from the First Nation in northern Ontario. 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