The Current

18-year water crisis in Eabametoong First Nation 'would not be tolerated' anywhere else, chief says

A long-standing water crisis in Eabametoong First Nation in northern Ontario "would not be tolerated" anywhere else in Canada, said Chief Harvey Yesno.

Ottawa aims to lift drinking-water advisory by August, but Chief Harvey Yesno fears action is too late

Concerns have been raised about the federal government's new water treatment plant for Eabametoong First Nation over increased water flow in the system, which will create more wastewater and increase pressure on a key lift station that has overflowed in the past. (Eabametoong First Nation)

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A long-standing water crisis in Eabametoong First Nation in northern Ontario "would not be tolerated" anywhere else in Canada, said Chief Harvey Yesno.

The remote fly-in Ojibway community, roughly 360 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, declared a state of emergency earlier this month after tests by the First Nation and Inuit Health Branch revealed levels of trihalomethanes above the federal drinking water standards in its tap water. The move came as Ottawa is working to eliminate all existing 57 boil-water advisories on reserves.

"It's a slow poison of sustained exposure, and you know, that could cause ovarian cancer, bladder cancer," he told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.

Following a trip to the community last week, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan hooked up operations of the completed $12-million dollar upgrade to the new water treatment plant.

Asked when the long-term drinking-water advisory would be removed, a department spokesperson said in an email to The Current they anticipate the tap water will be safe to drink by the end of August. 

"We are working closely with Eabametoong First Nation to bring clean and safe water to their homes," the email read.

Eabametoong Chief Harvey Yesno fears that decades of poor water exposure will spell long-term health consequences for residents. (Dave McSporran/Bottled Media)

But Yesno believes this commitment to finally fix the problem is several years too late.

Eabametoong has been under a boil-water advisory for 18 years, and he fears this will spell long-term health consequences for more than 1,500 members of his community. 

Yesno explained that health officials told him it could be another two decades before symptoms start to appear.

In addition to health problems, concerns have been raised about the federal government's new water treatment plant over increased water flow in the system, which the contractor said will create more wastewater and increase pressure on a key lift station in Eabametoong that has overflowed in the past. 

As a result, the community has asked Ottawa to upgrade its wastewater lift station, which Yesno said was poorly constructed in the '90s. He adds this has yet to be approved.

"All we're saying is that as a people here, you know, that we should not have to worry about the safety and quality of water and systems that every Canadian enjoys," Yesno said.


Written by Amara McLaughlin, with files from CBC News. Produced by Jess Linzey and Adam Killick. 

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