The Social Effects of Methylmercury Contamination in the English-Wabigoon River System.

Monday, 11 July 2016: 15:15
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Danielle MILLER-BELAND, Concordia University, Canada
Methylmercury is a known toxic metal compound found in the environment, and while it can be produced naturally, most cases of largescale contaminations are caused by anthropogenic causes, ranging anywhere from factory production to mining. The biological effects of methylmercury have been well documented, as it targets the nervous system, causing neurological damages, as well as affecting internal organs of those exposed to it. It also causes neurological and physical defects to children who were exposed to it in the womb meaning it has a multi-generational longevity in its biological impact.

While the biological effects are understood, correlations between that and the social effects due to poisoning are not always drawn upon when looking at intervention procedures while addressing the contamination. By demonstrating how different social factors, such as stigmatisation, corporate responsibility, social welfare resources, government intervention, and economic issues are influenced by the long-term recovery process of a large-scale methylmercury contamination, there can be a better understanding of how mercury poisoning impacts social well-being.

By using the example of the English-Wabigoon River system in Northern Ontario, Canada, which was discovered to have elevated levels of methylmercury in 1970 caused by Dryden Pulp and Paper Co., a paper mill factory located north of two Native communities, White Dog and Grassy Narrows, (and who are still to this day experiencing effects from the contamination), this paper will demonstrate how the biological effects of a large scale mercury contamination has a direct impact on the social well-being of the communities and how it influences the long-term recovery process. This will allow for further discussion on how procedures should be implemented during mecury contamination as well as discussion on the experiences the Native communities went through when moving forward through this environmental disaster.