Nfld. & Labrador

More mercury monitoring coming for Muskrat Falls

The Nunatsiavut Assembly reacted with "extreme disappointment" Tuesday as the Newfoundland and Labrador government announced further monitoring for methylmercury at Muskrat Falls, but no changes to reduce the mercury from entering Lake Melville.

N.L. government rejects clear cutting demands from Nunatsiavut

Muskrat mercury

6 years ago
Duration 1:26
The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced Tuesday further monitoring for methylmercury at Muskrat Falls.

The Nunatsiavut Assembly reacted with "extreme disappointment" Tuesday as the Newfoundland and Labrador government announced further monitoring for methylmercury at Muskrat Falls, but no changes to reduce the mercury from entering Lake Melville.

Environment and Conservation Minister Perry Trimper said during a news conference that if people living in the area are told not to eat fish, seabirds and seal because of high mercury levels, they will be compensated.

"Country foods are very important for people in this area. Putting a price on that is very difficult to do, so I'm not going to speculate on what that amount would be," Trimper said at the announcement.

He pointed to compensation for fishermen in the Straight of Bell Isle, where the subsea cable impacts their fishing area.

In April, Nalcor Energy downplayed the findings of a Harvard study about the mercury risk to fish and wildlife after the reservoir is flooded.

The study was commissioned by the Nunatsiavut Government, which is worried about the impact on people's food.

Environment and Conservation Minister Perry Trimper speaks to media at a news conference about mercury levels at Muskrat Falls. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Soil removal not feasible

Nunatsiavut has been asking for the entire reservoir site to be cleared of vegetation and soil, in order cut down on mercury.

However, Trimper said "full soil removal is not appropriate."

Removing soil creates other environmental problems, Trimper said.

It removes fish habitat from the bottom of the reservoir, he said, not all the areas are reachable, and when it rains loose soil would run into the river.

Environment Minister Perry Trimper said Tuesday that methylmercury at the Muskrat Falls site will still be well below acceptable levels. (CBC)

It's estimated five million cubic meters of soil would have to dumped somewhere.

Both Health Canada and Health and Community Services have signed off on the plan.

Prior to the Tuesday announcement, monitoring did not extend into Lake Meville. It will be up to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to determine the scope of the monitoring. 

'Extreme disappointment'

Reaction from Labrador to the news was swift, with former Nunatsiavut president Sarah Leo condemning the lack of action.

In a tweet, Leo, who spearheaded efforts to clear cut land around the reservoir before it's flooded, said she was disappointed.

Darryl Shiwak, the Minister of Lands and Resources in the Nunatsiavut government, said the province is offering something it does not want.

"Offering money or compensation after the fact, after a (do not consume) advisory, is totally unacceptable," he said.

"If you have a chance to do something, you need to mitigate downstream impacts. You need to do it today."

Shiwak says Nunatsiavut made four recommendations, including clear cutting and the creation of an independent advisory committee, but now says it seems none of those will be accepted.

"The first reaction that we have is of extreme disappointment."

Opposition reacts

Trimper said Nunatsiavut science shows mercury levels in the water will still be 66 times lower than safe limits for aquatic life.

The opposition parties largely agreed with government's move, with Progressive Conservation MHA Barry Petten calling it a "step in the right direction."

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy said he wants to see everything done to reduce methylmercury, but doesn't know how to accomplish that.

"It's beyond my technical expertise to comment on what level of soil removal is best to do, but I really think it's important to have something, a result here that's satisfactory to the Nunatsiauvt government."

With files from Peter Cowan

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