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Canada Ontario spending $85-million to clean up mercury in two First Nation communities

People protest the dumping of mercury on the Grassy Narrows First Nation at Queen’s Park on June 23, 2016.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario is spending an additional $85-million to clean up a mercury-contaminated river that has plagued two First Nation communities for half a century.

Environment Minister Glen Murray says the funds for the remediation of the English-Wabigoon River system in northwestern Ontario will be used to design and implement the cleanup, and for long-term monitoring.

Murray says the money will be spent in partnership with First Nations and remediation will be based on the scientific fieldwork that is currently underway.

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To date, the province has provided $2.5-million for sampling and analysis work, and Murray says it will be providing $2.7-million this year to accelerate those efforts.

Grassy Narrows has dealt with mercury poisoning since a paper mill in Dryden, Ont., dumped 9,000 kilograms of the substance into the Wabigoon and English River systems in the 1960s.

A report authored by five mercury experts and released earlier this year suggested mercury could still be leaking into the river system.

Mercury concentrations haven't decreased in 30 years and dangerous levels are still present in sediment and fish, causing ongoing health and economic impacts in the community.

"Mercury contamination has had a profound impact on the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) Independent Nations, and has to be properly addressed," Murray said Tuesday in a release.

"We are determined to right these historic wrongs, and we realize that actions speak louder than words."

Researchers have previously reported that more than 90 per cent of the people in Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nation show signs of mercury poisoning.

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