Inuits fear mercury poisoning from Canadian energy company

Mercury exposure can result in lower children’s IQs...

Inuits fear mercury poisoning from Canadian energy company

An Inuit hunter at Cape Nome, Alaska, 2005. Picture by: Laurent Dick / AP/Press Association Images

A Canadian energy company planning to build a multi-billion dollar hydroelectric dam in Newfoundland and Labrador is facing resistance from local Inuits amid fears their community will be poisoned.

Nalcor Energy were granted permission for the construction from the local government four years ago, but apparently flooding the reservoir will release toxic methylmercury into the area that surrounds the nearby Lake Melville.

Nalcor had stated that it would be so diluted as to have no effect on the Inuits living locally.

The findings of a new study commissioned by the aboriginal Nunatsiavut Government, however, strongly suggest the contrary, according to Vice’s Motherboard.

The study was carried out by scientists from Harvard, Memorial University and the University of Manitoba and has concluded that the toxic mercury released will have hugely detrimental effects on the local wildlife and potentially more than 200 members of the Inuit community, as well as future generations.

Two-thirds of the nearby Rigolet community would also be exposed to mercury levels above conservative US Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

Harvard epidemiologist Elsie Sunderland told Motherboard’s Jordan Pearson:

"The findings from epidemiological studies show that [mercury] is associated with lifelong neurocognitive deficits. This isn’t something that you would see visibly. It’s basically a direct impact on their brain development, so they wouldn’t realize the potential they would have without this kind of exposure."

In a statement to Motherboard, Gilbert Bennett, vice-president of the Nalcor project, said:

“We do not predict that creation of the Muskrat Falls reservoir will heighten risk to people in Lake Melville."

The study comes to the following conclusions:

"Scientific evidence demonstrates that Nalcor’s downstream impact predictions are false and based on incorrect assumptions.

"Under the current plan to only partially clear trees and brush in the reservoir, the Muskrat Falls dam will have significant adverse impacts on Inuit health, harvesting and consumption of country foods and Treaty rights in the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area. These impacts are much greater than previously assessed.

"Mitigation of downstream methylmercury impacts of Muskrat Falls is possible. Full clearing of wood, brush, vegetation, and topsoil from the reservoir area before flooding will result in significantly lower increases in methylmercury exposure for Inuit in the Lake Melville area than may be expected under the current plan to only partially clear the reservoir."

Newfoundland and Labrador’s minister of environment and conservation Perry Trimper has yet to make a decision, but will take the study into consideration.