Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/6/2010 (3435 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Widespread metal contamination in Flin Flon could have been prevented if provincial and federal regulators had enforced tougher emission standards years ago, according to an environmental expert.
Scientist Elaine MacDonald of Toronto-based Ecojustice said governments failed to take responsibility and put a cap on toxic emissions they knew were polluting the northern mining town for more than two decades.
MacDonald said scientists studied heavy-metal contamination in the area as far back as the 1980s, yet regulators did not push HudBay Minerals Inc. to clean up its act.
According to the latest available National Pollutant Release Inventory data, Flin Flon's copper smelter spewed the most toxic mercury, sulphur dioxide and cadmium of any facility in the country in 2008.
The previous year it topped the list as the nation's worst polluter for lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and sulphur dioxide, and exceeded its own harmful output of contaminants from the year before.
"Now we're at the point where a town has been contaminated, people's health has been impacted and the facility has to close down," MacDonald said during a phone interview from Toronto. "The regulators are taking action far too late; they should have done it a long time ago."
Provincial officials were unavailable to comment on Friday.
Earlier this week, a long-awaited report into the potential health effects of toxic metals spewed by the smelter concluded the risks from area pollution are "negligible to low." It was made public exactly one week after HudBay closed the doors to the controversial copper smelter that repeatedly made headlines as one of Canada's worst metal polluters.
MacDonald said the report "glossed over" significant risks identified from inhaling arsenic, cadmium and lead, and from eating fish contaminated with mercury in area lakes.
The report found levels of arsenic and cadmium in the air could pose a "low long-term health risk," some area lakes had elevated levels of mercury, and that residents have slightly higher levels of lead than the general population. Twenty-seven children who had elevated levels of lead in their blood were referred for medical follow-up, along with 11 children with elevated levels of arsenic in their urine. Another five children referred to physicians had levels of lead in their blood that exceed national standards.
Overall, health officials concluded the potential for long-term adverse health effects is low and that increased cases of cancer aren't expected. Metal levels will continue to be monitored despite the smelter's closure, and a follow-up lead blood analysis is recommended for residents in the fall of 2011.
MacDonald said the conclusion that the overall health risk is low doesn't "jive" with the report's actual findings. She said officials shouldn't downplay the significance of chronic exposure to metal contaminants, since no level of lead is safe and health effects can often surface years after exposure.
"Certainly, the health effects can come out many, many years later from the exposures," she said. "Just because they're not seeing any health impacts now doesn't mean they're yet to come."