Results of a year-long health study into toxic contamination of Ouje-Bougoumou residents will be released at a public meeting Sept. 3.
The study was lead by Dr. Evert Nieboer, a toxicology professor at McMaster University. Nieboer says the data from the testing – which began almost a year ago – is being currently being combined. “We still need to interpret them. We’re trying to relate things to lifestyle and consumption of food items.”
Nieboer says that some results have already been sent to participants in the study, which included 200 residents of Ouje-Bougoumou and 100 more from other Cree communities as a test control group. They provided information on dietary habits and biological samples that were tested for contaminants such as arsenic and cadmium.
“It’s a huge study with lots of data,” says Nieboer. “We want them to make sense.”
But Nieboer doesn’t want to talk details until the study results are revealed at a community meeting Sept. 3. “I’m bound by ethics not to go into them [until the community is made fully aware].”
Nieboer will make a series of recommendations and offer advice in conjunction with input from the Cree Public Health Board and the Quebec government.
“We’re on target,” he says of the year-long study. Overall, he says he is “quite encouraged. There are some concerns, which we will address appropriately.”
The New Hampshire geologist first raised concerns of contamination of the food supply with toxic heavy metals by the local mining industry. He sampled mine tailings, fish and human hair, finding worrying levels of arsenic, copper and zinc.
Covel questions the length of time the study has taken. “At most it should have taken six weeks to get that data,” he says. “It makes me awful suspicious.”
He believes there is political influence from the mining companies playing heavily on the process. “The mining companies carry too much political weight in Quebec. And there is a conflict of interest whenever the government has investments in mining companies.”
In the U.S., he says, the mine at Lac Chibougamau would have caused a scandal, and been declared an environmental disaster with appropriate cleanup efforts ordered immediately.
“But here we are three years after the contamination was first discovered and we’re still talking. Nothing’s been done.”