Conservation Council of New Brunswick News ReleasePublished by MAC on 2006-06-15
Conservation Council of New Brunswick News Release
For immediate publication
15th June 2006
Report Reveals New Brunswick Government Covered Up Health Risks of Smelter Contamination for a Generation
Fredericton - The Conservation Council of New Brunswick has released an exposé that traces a 40-year trail of government deceit and neglect concerning the contamination of Belledune, New Brunswick by a lead smelter, now owned by Falconbridge. A 2005 provincial health study
revealed that the community had a high death and cancer rate compared to other parts of the province.
"Dying for Development - The Legacy of Lead in Belledune" uses thousands of documents obtained under federal and provincial right-to-information legislation to document who knew what and when about the extent of contamination in the community and the health risks posed by the lead, cadmium and arsenic in people's yards, vegetables and seafood.
Dying for Development" reveals that public servants were fully aware of the extent and implications of heavy metal contamination in Belledune for the past 25 years. They commissioned or altered studies which were used to downplay or deny the problems. And they deliberately kept the victims of the heavy metal contamination in the dark.
Exposure to lead and other heavy metals is known to affect the IQ and behaviour of children and cause blood, kidney and nervous disorders, along with a number of cancers.
The lead smelter complex in Belledune was opened in 1966 and has had different owners over the years including Noranda and Falconbridge. It was seen by then Premier Louis Robichaud as a way of transforming the impoverished economy of northern New Brunswick by processing the ore from
nearby Brunswick mines in the province, rather than allowing it to simply be shipped away.
By 1968, just two years after the lead smelter began operation, high lead levels were discovered by the federal Department of Health and Welfare in and around the nearby Belledune school. Their recommendation of further investigations into lead pollution in the community was ignored by both
provincial and federal governments. "Dying for Development" documents how this inaction set the pattern that government officials have followed to this day.
"What has happened in Belledune is scandalous," said Inka Milewski, author of the report. "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," said Milewski.
According to documents obtained by the Conservation Council, the consequences of heavy metal poisoning in the community first came to government attention in 1973 when sheep began to die on the farm close to the smelter. In August 1981, the Director of Health and Welfare Canada's
Bureau of Chemical Safety advised the New Brunswick Department of Health that the lead contamination of the area posed a health risk to the people of Belledune. The people of Belledune were not informed.
"The documents we obtained reveal a series of decisions, some implicit, some explicit, taken by public servants and their political masters that the people of Belledune should, without their knowledge, live in a contaminated environment since 1981," said Ms. Milewski the report's author.
The report documents how public servants filtered information from field staff reports, commissioned deficient studies, and altered the only public report to be published about heavy metal contamination in Belledune to downplay or deny problems.
"Since we first uncovered the problem in Belledune in 2003 and brought it to public attention in an effort to secure a clean up, the pattern has remained the same," said David Coon, Policy Director for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. "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 clean up and the problem continues to be
dismissed. It's a public health scandal," said Coon.
In addition to ordering a clean up of contaminated properties the Conservation Council believes government should compensate those whose property or health has been effected, and launch a public inquiry into the scandal.
To prevent future Belledunes, the Conservation Council says an Environmental Bill of Rights is needed to entrench the public right to know about environmental and health risks and to protect civil servants who "blow the whistle" on government inaction that threatens the health and well-being of citizens.
Copies of "Dying for Development" can be ordered from the Conservation Council or downloaded from their website at www.conservationcouncil.ca
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Dying for Development: the legacy of lead in Belledune
Dying for Development - Chronology of a Cover-up
for Development - Mosaic 1950-2000
For more information, contact:
Inka Milewski, Report author, (506) 458-8747
Inuk Simard, Francophone spokesperson, (506) 458-8747