Thunder Bay

David Suzuki tells Kathleen Wynne she's wrong to delay mercury clean up at Grassy Narrows

Two of Canada's most prominent environmental experts are calling out Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for spreading science rumours, instead of fact.

Premier's claim that attempts to clean up river will spread contamination is baseless, scientists say

Scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki says the time, and the science is right, for Ontario to clean up mercury near Grassy Narrows. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Two of Canada's most prominent environmental experts are calling out Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for spreading "needless" fears about a plan to clean up of mercury near Grassy Narrows First Nation in northern Ontario.

Last week, Wynne repeated her claim that attempts to remediate mercury in the English Wabigoon River system could increase the contamination levels.

"As I have said many, many times, we are not going to act in contradiction of science that would say that if we take certain actions we will make the situation worse," Wynne said in the legislature on November 24.

Ontario Liberals are facing increasing pressure to clean up the river that was poisoned in the 1960s and 70s when 9,000 kilograms of mercury was dumped into it by the chemical plant at a paper mill in Dryden, Ont. 

"We have recently learned that the proposed mercury reclamation of the Wabigoon River system and Clay Lake has been postponed out of fear that reclamation efforts may worsen the mercury problem," David Suzuki and David Schindler wrote to Wynne on Tuesday.

"We are writing to assure you that this fear is needless, as we are sure that the methods proposed will not pose any damage to the system, and to ask you to proceed with the reclamation program," the letter said.

Schindler, whose five decades of ecological research includes time as a founding director in 1968 of the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area research project in northwestern Ontario, says the viability of a mercury clean up has been "studied to death."

"All planets are aligned" right now for John Rudd and a team of other "extremely well-qualified" mercury remediation experts to get to work on a plan for "enhanced natural recovery" of the river," Schindler told CBC News on Wednesday.

Rudd's government-sponsored research resulted in a clean-up plan that was released earlier this year.

It involves small-scale dredging of mercury hot spots in sediment of the river system and additions of nitrate and small amounts clean sediments through a process of "adaptive management."

Threat 'non-existant'

"The techniques that show promise at small-scale, they'll increase the scale of application, and those that appear to not be doing much, they will downgrade," Schindler explained. "So over all the threat of more mercury in the system is pretty well non-existant."

Ontario's Minister of Environment and Climate Change promised to clean up the river during question period at Queen's Park on November 23.

But the following day Glen Murray said the government will stay the course with it's plan to spend $600,000 on more research with Rudd and then consult with First Nations to decide how to proceed.

People from Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations continue to exhibit the symptoms of mercury poisoning, also known as Minimata disease, more than 50 years after the contamination began.

"To me, seeing two generations of people with Minimata symptoms now, this is beyond a science problem, this is a human rights and social justice problem," Schindler said.