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Japanese expert says mercury victims need more than money


Japanese expert says mercury victims need more than money
Japanese neurologist Dr. Masazumi Harada said Tuesday that money alone will not compensate First Nations residents for losses associated with mercury contamination.

By Mike Aiken
Source: Kenora Miner and News

Japanese neurologist Dr. Masazumi Harada examines Grassy Narrows First Nation resident Wayne Land during his visit to the reserve’s clinic Sunday. The Japanese researcher has now moved to nearby Wabaseemoong to see patients there.

Japanese neurologist Dr. Masazumi Harada said Tuesday that money alone will not compensate First Nations residents for losses associated with mercury contamination.
Speaking between seeing patients at the resource centre at Wabaseemoong First Nation (Whitedog), Harada said residents will also need to rebuild their social structure, including a secure economy, medical facilities and quality of life.
"You have to consider all those things, because of the environmental destruction that affected all those things," he said.
Harada is on his third visit to the communities of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong in Northwestern Ontario, where pollutants from the paper mill in Dryden contaminated the river system with mercury.

The economies of both communities relied heavily on fishing, wild rice and tourism. Each of these industries has been devastated by the discovery of high levels of mercury in the fish, wildlife and community residents.
The symptoms of those affected in Northwestern Ontario are similar to those seen among residents of Minamata Bay, Japan, where industrial pollution also caused a ban on commercial fishing, after signs of mercury poisoning appeared.
Wabaseemoong Chief Ron Roy McDonald said he had invited Harada and his team to visit, since he has come to distrust the opinion of Health Canada staff.
"There's still that denial that there's any problems with mercury. That's the concern that I have," he said.
Catherine Saunders, a spokesman for Health Canada, said 25 years worth of studies have shown a steady decline in mercury levels among both fish and residents in the area.
She added that both First Nations, as well as the Assembly of First Nations, had been allowed to choose both the researcher and the terms of reference for the work done by researchers at McGill University.
However, she noted that the results of the McGill study still showed a decline in contamination levels among the fish population in the area.
Chief Ron Roy McDonald credited his father, Ron, for an agreement that eventually brought compensation funds to both Grassy and Whitedog.
His father started a roadblock in 1976, which the chief said forced an agreement a decade later, that included the paper company, provincial and federal government on compensation for affected band members.
Even though the settlement involved $1 million for each of the two bands affected to cover health care costs, the total keeps rising, as children contaminated during pregnancy are also requiring specialized care.
The chief's brother-in-law, Keith Pahpasay, has been institutionalized for many years, due to health complications attributed to mercury poisoning.
"Once you catch it, it's an incurable disease," the chief said.
Harada agreed, saying there aren't any effective drugs available, and no concrete possibilities in the near future. While those who have been recently contaminated by heavy metals can use a process called chelation, which helps remove the contaminants from the system, Harada noted the process isn't effective once the metals have settled into the system for a long period of time, such as at Wabaseemoong and Grassy Narrows.
Saunders notes that Harada's work doesn't definitively distinguish between the effects of mercury, and other causes such as multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's or alcoholism.
Harada hoped to examine 80 residents of Whitedog during his visit, in addition to more than 65 examined over the weekend at Grassy Narrows.
From his observations in Grassy Narrows last weekend, Harada said the symptoms were progressing as he had expected during his visit in 2002.
When interviewed Tuesday, he said he had only seen three residents of Wabaseemoong during his most recent trip. However, he said he expected to find similar progress among the residents at Whitedog, as he had seen in Grassy Narrows.
He noted that the symptoms were quite similar in the two communities, when he studied both of them back in 1975.
Harada and his team have agreed to discuss their findings during a press conference Thursday, in Winnipeg, which has been sponsored by Grand Council Treaty 3.
The Grand Council includes 25 First Nations in northwestern Ontario, as well as three eastern Manitoba.
Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations are located about 200 km north and northwest of Kenora along the English-Wabigoon-Winnipeg River system.

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