Nfld. & Labrador

Ivy league challenge: Perry Trimper asks Harvard boss to clarify methylmercury research

A difference of opinion between a Harvard University professor and the Newfoundland and Labrador government is being pushed to the top ranks of the Ivy league university.

Harvard spokesperson insists Dr. Elsie Sunderland not involved in monitoring work as stated by N.L. government

A frustrated Perry Trimper says Harvard should clear up its role into research of methylmercury in a hurry, because of mounting civil unrest in Labrador. (CBC)

A difference of opinion between a Harvard University professor and the Newfoundland and Labrador government is being pushed to the top ranks of the Ivy league university.

Minister of Environment Perry Trimper on Friday released a copy of a letter he sent to the president of Harvard, asking Drew Faust to clear up the confusion.

At issue is whether a professor of environmental science and engineering, Elsie Sunderland, has agreed to participate in future research involving soil sampling to measure methylmercury levels in the Muskrat Falls reservoir.

Dr. Elsie Sunderland has denied, through university officials, that she agreed to do further research for the Newfoundland and Labrador government. (Twitter)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced Wednesday that Nalcor Energy would foot the bill for future research to be done through Sunderland's lab.

Both Sunderland and her department immediately denied that. "That's not the sort of work that professor Sunderland does or would do," Paul Karoff, assistant dean of communications, told CBC News earlier this week.

"We are totally perplexed," Trimper wrote in his Oct. 21 letter to the Harvard president. 

History of contact with Nunatsiavut, province

According to Trimper, Sunderland took part in an Oct. 3 teleconference with his staff and officials of the Nunatsiavut government, offering advice about an enhanced environmental monitoring plan to measure methylmercury levels in the Lake Melville area. 

He said the Nunatsiavut government asked to have the soil samples tested at Sunderland's lab.

"Dr. Sunderland was copied on the final proposal from the Nunatsiavut Government and my officials were advised to contact her directly with any technical questions. A budget prepared by Harvard officials was subsequently submitted associated with this proposed sampling," Trimper wrote in his letter.

Trimper said the professor was involved in an earlier study which determined that methylmercury levels would rise with Muskrat Falls flooding, and presented her findings to a workshop in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in August, findings now being used by protesters to justify their concerns.

Trimper says Harvard and Sunderland's lab have already done research on mercury levels in Labrador, and the results are now being used to fuel the protests. (CBC)

"Civil unrest, hunger strikes, and widespread demonstrations have ensued," Trimper said, demanding that Harvard clarify the scope of Sunderland's work, and whether the university endorses her research on the Labrador hydroelectric project.

Harvard insists Trimper got it wrong

Following Friday's press release from the government, an official with Harvard reiterated what they said earlier in the week, that Dr. Sunderland did not agree to do future monitoring work for the Newfoundland and Labrador government, Nalcor or anyone else.

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