Scientists from Japan are urging the Canadian government to recognize and treat First Nations victims of mercury poisoning. Leading Japanese mercury experts recently completed a week long visit to Grassy Narrows and Wabseemoong First Nations.
Two Sept. 2nd 2014 CBC articles “ Grassy Narrows: Why is Japan still studying the mercury poisoning when Canada isn’t?” states:
“Japanese scientists have spent the last week doing physical examinations, looking for evidence of brain and central nervous system damage from one of the most infamous examples of environmental mercury poisoning. Sixty years ago, the world was oblivious to the hazards of the raw mercury that industries were dumping into lakes and rivers, unaware that bacteria were transforming the inorganic metal into methyl mercury, an organic pollutant that accumulates in the food chain, contaminating fish and poisoning people. In the late 1950s, more than 100 people died in Minamata, Japan, and many more suffered devastating brain damage after eating fish contaminated with mercury that had been released by a chemical company. But it took another decade to recognize the emerging disaster in northern Ontario, just downstream from the Dryden pulp mill, where mercury used in the bleaching process was being flushed into the Wabigoon River.
But human health effects were not diagnosed until Dr. Masazumi Harada, who first exposed the extent of mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows in 1975. Between 1962 and 1970 mercury was dumped by a chemical plant at a Dryden paper mill into the river system where First Nations people caught fish, their staple food. Harada showed up in 1975, tipped off by a Japanese photographer that there was a mini-Minamata happening in Canada. Using his expertise from studying the Japanese victims, Harada diagnosed at least 60 cases of Minamata disease in Grassy Narrows, another 54 cases of Minamata-with-complications and a further two dozen suspected cases.
Yet, to this day, Canadian officials have never admitted to a single case of Minamata disease and the full extent of the human health effects of the mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows has never been systematically investigated.”
The CBC coverage continues:
“Instead, scientific interest in the Grassy Narrows story faded. Over the decades, as the levels of mercury in hair and blood tests began to fall, government monitoring tapered off. The hand-bound copies of research reports now gather dust on library shelves.
There have been some recent surveys of environmental contamination in First Nations communities, which have included testing for mercury in hair and blood, but those tests reveal only recent exposure. They do not shed light on the effects of past exposures or the ongoing damage from the toxic metal now embedded in the cells and tissue of the brain. Another lingering question from Grassy Narrows is the effect on the next generation, on the children whose mothers ate contaminated fish while they were in the womb. It has long been known that the dangers of fetal exposure to mercury can be severe, resulting in long-term neurological damage. Yet research on the influence of prenatal mercury exposure “has been pervasively delayed,” Harada wrote in 2011.”