Aboriginal Community in Canada Declares Emergency Over Unsafe Drinking Water

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In an event that's all too common in Canada's Aboriginal communities, a First Nation in Ontario has declared a state of emergency due to undrinkable water.

The drinking water issues in Grassy Narrows First Nation are not new. The community has been on a boil water advisory for more than a year, and their well systems have been on do not consume orders for more than two years — but recent tests revealing toxic chemicals in the water supply prompted the First Nation to declare an emergency.

Mercury and DBPs (plasticizers also used in adhesives) are present in the water, and CBC News reported turbidity (a measure of particulate cloudiness) in the community's drinking water at 120 times the amount allowed by provincial rules.

"We're scared that our drinking water has been unsafe for a long time now and the federal government does not seem to care at all," Councillor Rudy Turtle said in a release. "Our people have already been poisoned by mercury and now we have to deal with unsafe drinking water."

For now, Grassy Narrows has to rely on bottled water deliveries.

The community's water treatment plant was built 10 years ago but has never worked properly, CBC stated, and a risk assessment dating back to 2001 showed DBPs and cloudy water are not new problems.

Though it may seem unthinkable to those raised in urban centres, the situation in Grassy Narrows is shockingly normal for First Nations across Canada.

Excluding British Columbia, 91 Aboriginal communities are currently on boil water advisories across Canada, some of them for as many as 20 years. Many of these communities rely on bottled water shipments that are trucked or flown in.

In May, a nearby First Nation, Shoal Lake 40, declared a state of emergency after the ferry they rely on to bring them shipments of bottled water broke down. Many members of the community were forced to evacuate.

"It's a challenge to bring water in from Kenora… it's just very very difficult for my people to survive out here during this time," Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky told Global News.

Shoal Lake 40 has been under a boil water advisory for 17 years and does not have a water treatment plant. They have been campaigning for years for government funding to build an access road that would make construction of a treatment plant affordable.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont