Wabigoon River Mercury Assessment Ordered by EPA

Resolute Paper Mill in Dryden Ontario
Paper Mill in Dryden Ontario

Grassy Narrows Chief Fobister
Grassy Narrows Chief Fobister

GRASSY NARROWS – Mercury contamination has had a profound impact on the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) Independent Nations. Ontario is completely committed to working together with First Nations communities and partners to identify all potentially contaminated sites, and create and implement a comprehensive remediation action plan for the English Wabigoon River.

As a next step, a Director’s Order under the Environmental Protection Act is being proposed to require Domtar to prepare and implement a detailed assessment to determine if the mill site is an ongoing source of mercury to the Wabigoon River. The order would require:

  • The development and implementation of a plan to assess groundwater and soil on the site and surface water and sediment within the Wabigoon River adjacent to the mill site for the purposes of determining if mercury is discharging to the Wabigoon River.
  • The assessment will include the installation of monitoring wells, an analysis of groundwater and soil samples and a geophysical survey of the site.
Resolute Paper Mill in Dryden Ontario
Resolute Paper Mill in Dryden Ontario

The proposed order would also require Domtar to provide opportunities for First Nations and members of the public to be engaged on the proposed work plan, on all reports and any future study reports. This proposed order is a first step. Together we need to be unequivocally sure if the site is an ongoing source of mercury, and if it is, then we will work with all parties to take appropriate measures to stop further mercury from entering the river.

This mill site work will complement ongoing environmental work also underway with First Nations and ministry scientists in the English Wabigoon River, as part of Ontario’s commitment to identify mercury contaminated sites and to develop and implement a comprehensive action plan to remediate these sites.

Section 18 Director’s Order

An order issued under section 18 may require a person who owns, or owned, or who has or had management or control of an undertaking or property, to implement the requirements specified in the order if they are necessary or advisable to:

(a) prevent or reduce the risk of a discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment from the undertaking or property; or

(b) prevent, decrease or eliminate an adverse effect that may result from

 (i) the discharge of a contaminant from the undertaking, or

(ii) the presence or discharge of a contaminant in, on or under the property.

The proposed requirements in the draft order include:

  • The development and implementation of a work plan to assess groundwater and soil on the mill site, and surface water and sediment within the Wabigoon River adjacent to the site for the purposes of determining if mercury is discharging from the site to the Wabigoon River.
    • The assessment must include the installation and sampling of monitoring wells along the shoreline and a geophysical survey of the shoreline area. Samples will be analysed for total mercury, methyl mercury and chloride.
  • The provision of opportunities for area First Nation communities and other affected members of the public to be engaged in the development and implementation of the work plan, including making the progress reports and final report readily available to First Nations and members of the public who may be affected by a discharge of mercury from the site.
  • Upon the completion of the assessment, Domtar Inc. is required to provide a final report to the ministry detailing whether mercury is coming from the land portion of the mill site, or present in sediments within the Wabigoon River portion of the site, and whether mercury has the potential to impact downstream water and sediment quality, and mercury concentrations in fish. Recommendations for further investigation and any necessary remedial measures necessary are also required.
  • The order includes timelines to ensure work is conducted in a timely manner.

In order to protect human health and the natural environment, and to prevent, decrease or eliminate adverse effects, it is important that the work described in the draft Director’s Order be undertaken.