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UPDATED: Province confirms elevated mercury levels near Dryden mill

More work will be done to investigate "larger anomalies"
Dryden Mill
Dryden Mill

DRYDEN, Ont. -- Ontario's environment ministry says it will continue work this spring to evaluate the extent of mercury contamination in soil around the Dryden paper mill.

A ministry spokesperson says the current work focuses on an area of the mill property called the Gordon Road site.

That's where soil samples taken at two locations last fall showed "elevated total mercury concentrations," according to an email to tbnewswatch.com by spokesperson Gary Wheeler. 

Whereas the typical Ontario background concentration of mercury is 0.27 micrograms per gram, one of the locations showed a concentration as high as 14 micrograms, while a second location showed a concentration as high as 1.9 micrograms.

Wheeler said soil samples from 22 other locations disclosed mercury concentrations at or below the typical Ontario background concentration.

A concurrent geophysical assessment to locate metal materials in the soil, he said, "found some areas that could indicate possible metal material below ground...We are continuing our site assessment and will be excavating areas where there are larger anomalies."

It's unknown what the metal material is, but a former labourer at the mill previously told the Toronto Star that he was part of a work crew that dumped some drums of contaminated material into a pit.

Wheeler said the results from the most recent tests have been shared with First Nations such as Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong, the communities most directly affected by historic mercury contamination in the English Wabigoon River systems.

In December, after years of lobbying by First Nations and environmentalists, Ontario passed legislation to provide $85 million in in funding for remediation of the contamination.

In response to the recent test results, the provincial NDP on Monday accused the Liberal government of shelving a report in 2016 that showed First Nations people were still at risk from mercury poisoning. The party's environment critic, Peter Tabuns, said the province should have addressed the ongoing environmental risks sooner.