Power utilities should be fined if they build hydro-projects that release too much mercury into the environment, said officials of the Grand Council of the Crees at a House of Commons committee in mid-November.

Testifying before the standing committee on the environment, Bill Namagoose said mercury contamination caused by hydro-electric dams has led to severe health and social problems in the Cree communities.

“The psychological impact on the Crees and the environment has been tremendous,” he said. “The change to eating store-bought food as opposed to fish has led to all kinds of health problems. We have problems of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Namagoose called on Ottawa to amend the Environmental Protection Act to include regulations that would drastically reduce mercury contamination by future Hydro-Quebec projects, reports the Montreal Gazette.

Brian Craik, federal relations director at the Grand Council, said mercury levels in some James Bay fish are six times higher than the norm allowed by the World Health Organization. Currently, the Environmental Protection Act does not regulate mercury contamination resulting from hydroprojects. The law, now under review, only regulates mercury released into the atmosphere by pulp and paper mills.

The Grand Council also recommended that the act require environmental reviews of major forestry developments and that Natives be included in federal-provincial advisory boards on the environment.

The parliamentary committee is to report back to the House of Commons by June.