Long-term mercury exposure blamed for high youth suicides in Canada’s indigenous community
Researchers who studied three generations of mothers and their children from an indigenous community in Canada found decades of mercury exposure prompted worryingly high youth suicide rates, underscoring the catastrophic legacy of environmental contamination.
Sustained exposure to the toxic metal made suicide rates among the community of Grassy Narrows, Ontario, three times higher than any other First Nations community – which are already much higher than among the country’s general population.
Children Of The Poisoned Rivers
Grassy Narrows saw nearly a decade of mercury dumping after 1963, when a paper company released a substantial amount of the metal into the river systems. The dumping contaminated miles, with fish soon becoming too poisonous for consumption.
The indigenous community had not reported any suicide attempts among its youth before the mercury dumping. But in the generations after the dumping, the youth suicide rates far surpassed that of other First Nations.
80 mothers and 162 children between the ages of five and 17 were part of the study. The researchers initially suspected the consumption of fish containing traces of mercury caused psychological distress and nervous system disorders.
Mothers’ Umbilical Cords Had Traces Of Their Grandmothers’ Mercury Exposure
Highlighting the cascade of effects, Donna Mergler, the study’s lead author, said the mother’s mercury exposure in her childhood is associated with today’s psychological distress and nervous system disorders.
The mothers’ umbilical cords had traces of their grandmothers’ mercury exposure. When a pregnant woman consumes mercury-tainted fish, the toxic element gets actively transported across the placenta, eventually affecting foetus development, she added.
Grassy Narrows has long been calling on the provincial and federal governments to get their contaminated river systems cleaned. In 2021, the federal government agreed to fund a $C90 million project to help those living with the effects of poisoning, but it has faced repeated delays.