Daily Gleaner | Provincial NewsPublished by MAC on 2006-06-15
Daily Gleaner | Provincial News
As published on page A4 on June 16, 2006
Council alleges N.B. covered up environmental hazard
By RICHARD DUPLAIN
A report by the New Brunswick Conservation Council alleges a government coverup surrounding pollution in Belledune and a refusal to consider scientific facts.
Council policy director David Coon said the premier should order a public enquiry, compensate those affected and order an immediate cleanup of the area.
The full report can be seen at www.conservationcouncil.ca.
"Since we first uncovered the problem in 2003 and brought it to public attention in an effort to secure a clean up, the pattern has remained the same," Coon said.
"Despite the extent of contamination in people's yards, in their garden produce and in local seafood, despite the fact that a number of adults and children have unacceptable levels of lead, cadmium or arsenic, and despite the damning results of the government's own health study, there is still no cleanup and the problem continues to be dismissed," he said.
"It's a public health scandal."
On Thursday, the Conservation Council released a report called Dying for Development, The Legacy of Lead in Belledune.
The report was written by Inka Milewski.
She concludes government officials knew in 1968 the lead smelter complex in Belledune that opened in 1966 was an environmental hazard.
Milewski's three-year study concludes inaction by successive provincial and federal governments set a pattern that government officials follow to this day.
The report exposes what the council considers a 40-year trail of government neglect and deceit about the poisoning of Belledune by lead, cadmium and arsenic.
The council based its report on documents obtained under the federal and provincial right-to-information legislation.
The council said lead is known to affect the IQ and behaviour of children and cause blood, heart and nervous disorders in children and adults. Chronic exposure to cadmium and arsenic can result in a variety of cancers and diseases.
The council also conducted a children's health survey in the Belledune area.
Of the 76 children from 50 families who participated, 26 children living closest to the smelter had more health problems associated with their nervous system, skin, bladder and digestion than the 50 children living six to eight kilometres from the smelter.
Dying for Development said cadmium is known to affect the kidneys, liver and stomach, while lead causes nervous system, stomach and kidney disorders, and arsenic causes skin, respiratory, stomach and nervous system disorders in children.
"What has happened in Belledune is scandalous," Milewski said.
"Despite the fact that the provincial government had clear evidence and expert advice that the lead contamination posed a health risk to the people of Belledune, they kept those families in the dark for an entire generation."
Belledune - Timeline
What follows are some key points in the Dying for Development report by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.
# In May 1968, then Department of National Health and Welfare found high levels of lead in and around the school in Belledune. The report was not made public and neither the province nor the federal government investigated the findings.
# In 1980, provincial environment officials were alerted by smelter officials that lead and cadmium levels in shell fish were high.
# In 1981, an inter-governmental Environmental Impact Assessment review committee called the Belledune area highly contaminated and blamed the lead smelter.
# Also in 1981, the federal Health Department alerted the provincial Health Department that lead contamination posed a health risk to the people of Belledune. The Health Department did not inform residents that they were at risk.
# In 1991, an environment department employee acknowledged Belledune was one of the most contaminated areas of the province. The report from the employee was altered and the conclusions changed and the report was dismissed to avoid possible legal action by the smelter's owners.
# In May 2005, the Belledune-area health study found residents there had higher cancer, disease and death rates than the rest of the province. The province banned mussel harvesting and ordered another study.
# In June, soil, produce and seafood tests were released and the Department of Health declared lead and cadmium were not responsible for the high cancer rates in Belledune.