Anxious residents are still waiting to find out what course of action will be taken in the wake of the Covel report on contamination in the Ouje-Bougoumou region. The report, dated October 8,2001, gave evidence of heavy metal contamination in sediment, water and fish samples collected from the Nemenjiche River, Lac Dore, Lac Chibougamau and Lac Obatogamau. The report also disclosed findings from human head hair analyses that indicated high levels of metals such as chromium, cadmium and arsenic, among others.
The use of head hair samples for testing has been called into question by some in official circles for not being a foolproof method of data accumulation. Indeed, some toxins might be absorbed in the body and not show up in head hair, while other toxins might show high levels in hair but not in the body. According to Dr. Roger Masters, co-researcher of the Covel report, hair samples are “non-invasive, relatively inexpensive and allow testing for a wide range of metals.” Masters said that hair can be used effectively as a preliminary screen for toxins since it is economical and easy to collect. Further analysis would also need to be done on blood and urine samples.
“A lot of our people who have gone have died of cancer, but we never knew what caused the cancer,” said Chief Sam Bosum of Ouje-Bougoumou, expressing concern over the situation. “Cancer is not the only thing that can be caused by poison,” said Dr. Masters, who has spent 30 years studying biology and behaviour. Masters has pointed to a number of behavioural conditions that can arise from exposure to poisons. According to his research, learning disabilities such as Attention Deficit Disorder and hyperactivity can be triggered by multiple toxins. He also suggests that social problems such as drug addiction and violence are connected to contaminants in the evironment. In the case of drug addiction, for instance, the effect of the drug taken might be one of a medication counteracting chemicals absorbed into the body, or toxins could be responsible for affecting the system that can lead to addiction. Doctor Masters has no doubt that an irrefutable connection exists between toxins and behavioural conditions, since the brain is “incredibly complex and toxins can affect it in a number of ways.”
Dr. Masters has called for immediate testing of all residents of Ouje-Bougoumou and treatment for any individual with serious toxic burden. There are laboratories that have had good success rates in providng treatment, using nutrients, to help the body rid itself of toxins. “The story of the Ouje-Bougoumou cree is just shocking,” said Masters. “There is environmental pollution that is killing a large portion of the population and I consider that uncivilized. It is in the self-interest of everyone in Canada that the mining contamination in Ouje-Bougoumou be dealt with, ” urged Masters.
Meanwhile, Chief Bosum has been informed by Quebec government officials that they would let him know when they will visit the community, but the proposed meeting would probably not take place until after Christmas. “There are some people (in the community) asking about when a meeting will take place. They have told me they don’t want any more mines,” said the Ouje-Bougoumou Chief. The CRA and the Grand Council have also claimed that the situation is a priority for them. “I know it was on the agenda at our last meeting,” said Chief Bosum, “But we didn’t get around to it.” The failure of the government or the Grand Council to take immediate action on the situation has continued to fuel suspicion that the toxic disaster is taking a backseat to negotiations on the AIP.