Thunder Bay

New evidence backs claim of secret mercury dump, ex-worker says

A former worker at the pulp and paper mill in Dryden, Ont., says he feels vindicated by new research released Friday by an environmental group.

Soil samples near Dryden, Ont., pulp mill reveal 'hot spots,' environmental group finds

The environmental group Earthroots says volunteers found high levels of mercury in soil sampled about one kilometre from the paper mill in Dryden, Ont., where a former worker says he remembers dumping barrels of mercury in 1972. (Louis-Phillippe Leblanc/Radio-Canada)

A former worker at the pulp and paper mill in Dryden, Ont., says he feels vindicated by new research released on Friday by the environmental group Earthroots.

Kas Glowacki went public last June saying that in 1972 he helped bury more than 50 barrels of mercury in a pit near the mill, upstream from Grassy Narrows First Nation.

His claims appeared to support research by leading mercury experts released in May, showing a continuing source of mercury contamination in the Wabigoon River system.

Glowacki said he felt "belittled" last fall when the Ontario government reported that it looked for the hidden barrel dump and found no evidence it existed.

"They were kind of saying, like 'you little liar, liar, liar pants on fire,'" Glowacki said in an interview with CBC News on Friday.

'I knew what I did'

"But I knew what I did and I knew where the mercury is, more or less, buried."

Glowacki said Earthroots worked with him to compare current and historical maps of the mill site and identify the area where he remembers dumping the mercury. 

Volunteers with Earthroots took soil samples in the area in the fall of 2016, about a kilometre behind the mill, which were then tested at an independent lab, revealing "hot spots" of contamination, according to Earthroots chair Gord Miller.

One sample showed almost 4,000 parts per billion of mercury, he said. Mercury concentrations in the area are normally up to 200 parts per billion near the surface and up to 50 parts per billion underground.

'No reasonable explanation'

"There is no reasonable explanation for that level of mercury to occur in forested land in northwestern Ontario," said Miller, the province's former environment commissioner. "We have found enough evidence to support the need for an extensive geotechnical survey."

After news broke about Earthroots' samples on Friday, Glowacki said he heard back from an official from Ontario's Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, asking more questions about the location of the hidden mercury dump.

It wasn't the call he was hoping for.

"I think they [government officials] owe me an apology," he said. "They also should give me a pat on the back and say, 'Thank you very much for doing this' for us and for the environment. 

"And what they owe the people of Grassy Narrows is an apology for 40 years of saying there was no more mercury leaking into their water table, and possibly some further financial support in helping them recover from the ails that have attacked them over the 40 years."

In a statement Friday, the ministry said it takes the new information seriously and will "carefully review the data Earthroots has provided on the new site and take appropriate investigative action."