March 6 & 7 Mercury Round Table/Student Presentation
Posted on: March 6, 2017
Fish consumption advisories
Province of Ontario fish consumption advisories are in place for most lakes in Northwestern Ontario, mainly due to mercury.

The public is welcome to a round table discussion entitled, “What Can We Do About Mercury in our Water,” which will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on March 6th at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, 1080 Keewatin Street, on the Confederation College campus.

“It’s not just a local area or a local source that’s causing the contamination,” says Peggy Smith, Lakehead University’s interim vice-provost (Aboriginal initiatives) and an associate professor in Natural Resources Management.

The impact of high levels of mercury contamination will be discussed at the round table as part of Lakehead University’s 2017 Research and Innovation Week. Michael Rennie, a panel member, assistant professor in Lakehead University’s Department of Biology, also Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries, says that mercury is a, “persistent issue that we’ve known about since the 1960’s. What do we need to do about that? Should we be concerned and how much should we be concerned?”

Round Table Participants

  •  Elder Beatrice Twance-Hynes will do an opening including the Water Song.
  •  Dr. Michael Rennie, Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries (Biology, formerly with Experimental Lakes Area).
  • Dr. Brian Branfireun, Canada Research Chair in Environment and Sustainability, cross-appointed with Earth Sciences and Geography at Western University.
  • Judy Da Silva (Environmentalist and member of Grassy Narrows First Nation).
  • Dr. Peter Lee (Biology, works with Seine River First Nation).
  • Dr. Peggy Smith Interim Vice-Provost, Aboriginal Initiatives, and Associate Professor in Natural Resources Management (Moderator).

Some people may recall mercury, a silver, liquid metal, as the substance they rolled around in their hand in high school chemistry class. Since that time, the toxicity of mercury has been extremely well documented. Mercury is an element which can neither be created nor destroyed, although it can “speciate” or “cycle” between various forms. In fact, mercury is a natural constituent in many substances, including soil, vegetation like trees, and coal. When coal is combusted, in power plants for example, mercury is a by-product of the combustion process. Mercury moves up the smokestack and is then transported through the atmosphere, falling out on land, rivers and lakes. Atmospheric deposition of mercury is by far the largest source of mercury in the environment and the leading contributor to consumption advisories for fish in Ontario’s lakes. Almost every lake within the Lake Superior watershed, including Superior itself, has consumption advisories for mercury, mainly due to atmospheric deposition.

Additionally, work carried out in the Experimental Lakes Area, east of Kenora, Ontario, demonstrates that flooding as a result of reservoir creation results in the microbial breakdown of dead plants and organic soils leading to methylation of mercury already present in the system. Methyl mercury is a more toxic form of mercury.

Spills of mercury are another concern. In Northwestern Ontario, many of these spills are the legacy of the pulp and paper industry. Chlor-Alkali plants producing chlorine-dioxide used in the bleaching process for paper were often located near pulp and paper mills. These facilities utilized mercury in the production process and spills have resulted. Mercury in the English-Wabigoon River system and orginating at the Dryden, Ontario mill site is a well-known example. Other examples are the mercury contamination in Peninsula Harbour, the main harbour in Marathon, Ontario. Contamination in Marathon’s harbour was addressed in 2012 through the Peninsula Harbour Remedial Action Plan. Cleanup involved an innovative thin-layer cap, put in place with contributions from the federal government, the provincial government and industry, at a cost of approximately $7 million dollars.

Another site contaminated with mercury lies within the waters of Thunder Bay Harbour, adjacent to the mouth of the Current River and a former mill site. Cleanup method for this 350,000 cubic meters of contaminated pulpy material, some of it up to three meters thick and covering an area the size of several football fields, has not been determined.

Three-Minute Thesis Presentations –
Starting at 10:00am Tuesday, March 7 – Faculty Lounge Lakehead University

In addition to the round table talks, Samuel Pegg will be presenting about his thesis titled Acquiring Minds in an Uncertain World: Risk Communication in the Thunder Bay Area of Concern.  Supervised by Dr. Rob Stewart, Samuel’s research works within the context of the Remedial Action Plan program and seeks to understand how the risks of the mercury-contaminated sediment in the Thunder Bay North Harbour can be effectively understood and communicated.

What began as a simple completion at the University of Queensland, the three-minute thesis competition has grown into a multi-national event that sees a variety of graduate students attempt to concisely explain their research to a non-specialist audience within the space of three minutes.

The presentations are open to the public and will begin at 10:00am, Tuesday March 7 in the Faculty Lounge, Lakehead University.


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