Asubpeechoseewagong, more commonly known as Grassy Narrows, is a small town with around 700 First Nation inhabitants. Situated in the middle of a mosaic of lakes and dense Ontario forest, Grassy Narrows is the kind of place that rarely makes the headlines - except for bad news. News rarely gets worse than this: almost everyone in the small village is suffering from mercury poisoning caused from toxic mill dumps that were conducted 40 years ago.
The community has been slowly poisoned over those 40 years - though the situation has only recently received mainstream news coverage. Kas Glowaki, a laborer who was part of the Dryden Paper Mill dumping team, wrote the Canadian Environmental Ministry telling of the decision to haphazardly dispose of 10 tons of mercury and salt only 100km upriver of the town. “I was amazed at the amount of mercury that was pooling around my shovel as I dumped it into the drums,” wrote Glowacki, who cited "guilt" as the reason for his writings.
The government has been quietly conducting tests on Grassy Narrows throughout the past few decades. In one remarkable study, Health Canada tested the umbilical cords of 139 children - finding enough mercury in the umbilical blood to effect the neurodevelopment of the infants. “There are some children being born, they are like five now … but they can’t talk, they talk gibberish,” said Grassy Narrows resident Judy Da Silva. Faced with this information, a former Environmental Minister of Canada had recommended that the province of Ontario spend the money necessary to remediate Grassy Narrows - though the decision was made to let the remediation occur naturally.
To this day, there are still elevated levels of mercury in the fish and water surrounding Grassy Narrows and those levels aren't decreasing. A recent study showed that the river could be cleaned up by using clean clay sediments to dilute the river bottom where most of the mercury has settled. That method would purportedly bring mercury levels down to acceptable levels within 5 years, though it would cost between $30 and $50 million. The government has not yet committed to the mercury dump cleanup - with Ontario premier Kathleen Wynn saying "I want this to happen, but I am not going to go ahead unless we're sure that we're not going to do more damage."