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Ontario commits to cleanup of mercury contamination near Grassy Narrows First Nation

Cabinet ministers promise First Nations-led cleanup effort of decades-old mercury contamination

By Jody Porter, CBC News

Research released in September 2016 shows more than 90 per cent of the population at Grassy Narrows First Nation is experiencing symptoms of mercury poisoning.

Research released in September 2016 shows more than 90 per cent of the population at Grassy Narrows First Nation is experiencing symptoms of mercury poisoning. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The Ontario government is promising to find and remediate all the mercury contamination that continues to poison people at Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations in the northwestern corner of the province.

"We are completely committed to working with all partners to identify all potentially contaminated sites, and to creating and implementing a comprehensive remediation action plan for the English Wabigoon River," said a statement issued Monday from the minister of environment and the minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation.

The announcement came after a meeting on Friday between Premier Kathleen Wynne, Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister and environmentalist David Suzuki.

Mercury was dumped in the river that flows through the two northwestern Ontario First Nations by Reed Paper, upstream in Dryden, Ont., in the 1960s and early 1970s. Recent scientific reports show the water is still contaminated.

More than 90 per cent of the population at Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations show signs of mercury poisoning, according toresearch released in September by Japanese experts who have been studying the health of people there for decades.

'Historic commitment'

"I welcome this historic commitment and I am eager to work to make this promise a reality so that my people can enjoy our culture and our homeland in health again without fear of an invisible poison," Fobister said.

"When our fish are safe to eat, we will know that his promise has been kept."

The First Nations have been calling for a cleanup for more than 40 years and were recently joined by some of the world's leading scientific experts on mercury remediation.

Read the full story and listen to Up North - Province commits to cleaning up decades-old mercury in Grassy Narrows here.