The Manitoba government says it is looking into concerns that more people in Lynn Lake are developing cancer, possibly due to toxic mine waste on which a number of homes were built decades ago.
Many in Lynn Lake say they have long believed there is a higher than normal cancer rate in the small northern town, particularly in one subdivision that was built on top of mine tailings in the 1970s.
Tailings, a waste byproduct of the mineral milling process, are produced when powerful chemicals are mixed together to separate the nickel, copper and zinc from the mined rocks.
Residents like Pat and Neil Campbell, who live on Eldon Avenue, say at least 30 people within a two-block area have been diagnosed with some form of cancer over the years.
"Several different types of cancer. They had lung cancer, stomach cancer, throat cancer," resident Pat Campbell told CBC News during a recent tour of the street.
The Campbells have also been dealing with cancer: Pat's colorectal cancer is in remission, while Neil is currently battling kidney and skin cancer.
The provincial government told CBC News earlier this week that it had no evidence the rate of cancer was higher in Lynn Lake.
But on Thursday, the province's chief public health officer said he is listening to the residents' concerns.
"From what I've heard this week, these kind of specific questions and concerns haven't been raised to the health authority or to public health, for example," Dr. Michael Routledge said in an interview.
"So this is, apart from the fact that there have been health risk assessments in the past and some work has been going on, these specific concerns haven't been raised to us before. So we're just hearing about them and we are actively responding to them."
Routledge said the province is now trying to compile as much information as it can to look into the concerns of Lynn Lake residents.
"There's a lot of details that go into that including, you know, what types of cancers, what were the ages of people, how big of a population, how long of an exposure?" he said.
"What was the pattern of these cancers in terms of were they clustered together in terms of time, or were they spread out over many years?"
Province to discuss tailings under playground
The province also responded on Thursday to concerns, brought forward by Lynn Lake Mayor James Lindsay, about mine tailings coming out of the ground at the local playground.
"With respect to the park, this is the first time that's been brought to our attention that there are tailings exposed in the park," said John Fox, the province's assistant deputy minister of mineral resources.
Fox said officials have already addressed the issue of tailings in the soccer field and the baseball diamond, but he will talk to the town about the playground.
"We're willing to sit down with the town to talk about the park and assess what we might want to do to ensure that the kids are not playing in the tailings," he said.
Fox said there is no plan to excavate the tailings under the subdivision where the Campbells and others live.
Lindsay told CBC News on Thursday that he and previous town leaders have alerted officials with the province's mines branch numerous times about tailings under the community.
According to the mayor, the officials' responses ranged from "I'm not here to talk about that" to "Don't go there."