Thunder Bay

Vigil honours people poisoned by mercury in Grassy Narrows

About 15 residents of Grassy Narrows and other supporters gathered outside a mill in Dryden, Ont., Thursday — World Water Day — to honour the people and families poisoned by mercury dumped into the Wabigoon River.

Health survey of the community to be released at the end of March

Survivors and supporters gathered at the mill in Dryden, Ont., Thursday to honour people and families poisoned by mercury dumped into the Wabigoon River. (Free Grassy / Twitter)

About 15 residents of Grassy Narrows and other supporters gathered outside a mill in Dryden, Ont., Thursday — World Water Day — to honour the people and families poisoned by mercury dumped into the Wabigoon River.

People who live in Grassy Narrows, as well as Wabaseemoong, show signs of mercury poisoning due to mercury-containing effluent being dumped into the river in the 1960s and early 1970s by then-owner Reed Paper. Studies have also confirmed elevated levels of mercury are still present in the soil at the mill site.

Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong are downstream from the mill.

"We're just holding a vigil for the mercury victims," said Judy Da Silva, a resident of and long-time advocate for Grassy Narrows and one of the organizers of Thursday's vigil. "Survivors and people that have left us, that died from mercury poisoning."

"The last time we were here was in 1975, and now it's 2018," she said. "We're just bringing awareness that we're still suffering from the effects of 10 tons of mercury that was spilled into the English-Wabigoon river system."

The Ontario government has committed $85 million to clean up the river.

Results of a health survey of Grassy Narrows residents are expected at the end of March. (Jody Porter/CBC)

A 2016 study commissioned by Domtar — which purchased the mill in 2007 — showed elevated levels of mercury in some areas, but there was insufficient data to determine if mercury was still leaching into the river system.

In an email to CBC News, a Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change representative said the ministry is currently doing an assessment of the property to determine if it is an ongoing source of contamination to the river.

A report, the spokesperson said, is due to be complete sometime this spring.

The ministry is also working out remediation options for the river system. No timeline was provided as to when the cleanup would start.

More information about the health effects the mercury is having on Grassy Narrows residents should be coming soon. Da Silva said the results of a health survey commissioned by the community are expected to be available by the end of March.

The work involved surveying more than 800 Grassy Narrows households.

"The effects on the health of our people is inter-generational, and we're all suffering from it in Grassy Narrows," Da Silva said.