Thunder Bay

'Overt environmental injustice' continues at Grassy Narrows, medical journal concludes

A medical student at Queen's University says he was surprised to discover the history of mercury poisoning near Grassy Narrows First Nation as part of a research project that became an article in this month's Canadian Medical Association Journal.

New medical research looks at 'interwoven history of mercury poisoning in Ontario and Japan'

Research released in September shows more than 90 per cent of the population at Grassy Narrows First Nation is experiencing symptoms of mercury poisoning. (Jody Porter/CBC)

A medical student at Queen's University says he was surprised to discover the history of mercury poisoning near Grassy Narrows First Nation, as part of a research project that became an article in this month's Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Adam Mosa said the project started with an interest in the neurological effects of environmental toxins and resulted in an article titled, The interwoven history of mercury poisoning in Ontario and Japan, co-authored with Jacalyn Duffin.

The article outlines what Mosa calls the "disparate" approaches that Japan and Canada took to dealing with industrial mercury contamination in the 1950s and 60s.

"Overt environmental injustice [at Grassy Narrows] led to the destruction of the local food chain, and loss of employment in the guiding and commercial fishing businesses led to increasing prevalence of manufactured foods of dubious quality (i.e. low protein and carbohydrate rich)," the article concludes.

Historical details in the article include an explanation of how a pair of photojournalists were the catalyst that brought neurologist Dr. Mazasumi Harada to Grassy Narrows from Minimata, Japan for the first time.

Aileen and Eugene Smith were putting together a book about mercury contamination at Minimata when they were invited to a fishing lodge near Grassy Narrows and noticed people there displayed symptoms similar to what they'd seen in Japan.

Mosa said another surprise during the research came in discovering that the problems with mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows persist more than 50 years after the contamination was discovered.

"It has been quite hard to see the degree to which there have attempts to advocate and create noise around the issue on so many occasions in order to call attention to what's been going on with their water supply and their food supply and despite that there hasn't been a lot of education," Mosa said.

Harada's team continues to visit the First Nation and conduct research, most recently concluding that 90 per cent of the population exhibits symptoms of mercury poisoning.

It has been 40 years since the only other article about Grassy Narrows was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) — a situation Mosa hopes will change.

The research was "a bit of a learning point in persistence and in trying to elicit support from different groups," he said."So in writing this article in the CMAJ, I'm trying to bring this issue into collective awareness of more people, especially people in the medical field."