More mercury testing for northern Ontario site

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TORONTO – The Ontario government says it is conducting an expanded mercury contamination assessment in the hopes of cleaning up a site that has left a northern First Nation plagued with mercury poisoning for more than 50 years.

The commitment follows testing done by volunteers with an environmental group last year that found high levels of mercury in soil samples taken near an old paper mill.

The Grassy Narrows community, near the Manitoba border, has dealt with mercury poisoning since the mill in Dryden, Ont., dumped 9,000 kilograms of the substance into the Wabigoon and English River systems during the 1960s.

But mercury concentrations haven’t decreased in 30 years and dangerous levels are still present in sediment, fish, and the people of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) Independent Nations.

The government previously conducted testing near the mill, when a former worker pointed them there, but says Earthroots volunteers conducted their tests in a different area, so the government will now conduct “a full and rigorous mercury contamination assessment on the entire mill site.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and the province’s environment minister met Friday with the chief of Grassy Narrows and environmentalist David Suzuki and committed to identifying all potentially contaminated sites and implementing a remediation plan for the river.