Ontario Knew About Grassy Narrows Mercury Site for Decades, But Kept it Secret
Government officials knew in the 1990s that mercury was visible in soil under the paper mill upstream from Grassy Narrows First Nation, but the people there did not find out until this week, the Star has learned.
During the intervening years, as the residents of Grassy Narrows and scientists sounded the alarm that the neurotoxin was poisoning the fish and the people who eat it, government official after government official kept repeating that there was no ongoing source of mercury in the Wabigoon River that is the lifeblood of Grassy Narrows.
The residents were told that since the mill, then owned by Reed Paper, dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon between 1962 and 1970, the river would, over time, clean itself naturally.
A confidential report, commissioned by the current owner of the mill, Domtar, and prepared in 2016 by an environmental consulting firm, tells a different story: the province knew decades ago that the site of the mill was contaminated with mercury. Today, the report says, it likely still is.
Further, the report — which is based on a “collection of historical sampling” from the mill’s archives — also reveals that groundwater samples taken from wells on the mill property over the years have come back with extremely high mercury levels. The province’s Environment Ministry said it was unaware of this well data until it got the report in July 2016.
The report says there are two potential ongoing sources of mercury at the site of the old mill: under the old chlor-alkali plant where “additional mercury-contaminated soils are known to remain present beneath the building,” and a ditch beside the river where there has been no monitoring.