First Nations’ cancer linked to Tar Sands’ toxins in wild food: study
Deeply frustrated by provincial denials of health concerns, two First Nations commissioned their own study using out-of-province university researchers to examine oil sands pollutants in their foods.
by Mychaylo Prystupa, Vancouver Observer,July 8th, 2014
Two northern Alberta First Nations downstream of massive oil sands smoke plumes and tailing ponds released a human health study Monday, implicating the growth of the industry to many serious Aboriginal health concerns, including cancer.
The worry? Oil sands pollution is contaminating their wild food.
“I don’t know what it is that they’re hiding. What’s causing these cancers? Why is it so hard that they cannot take it out of their production, so it’s not hurting anyone or killing anyone?” asked Chief Steve Courtereille of the Mikisew Cree First Nation at an Edmonton press conference.
The new scientific study states the region’s “country food” contains elevated levels of toxic metals and carcinogens, that members of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations traditionally eat.
But recent fears that oil sands pollution is contaminating the food, has led fewer people to eat it.
The research was partly funded by Health Canada and reviewed by federal scientists.
The wild foods include: moose, ratroot, duck, wild mint, spruce gum, pickerel, caribou, and Labrador tea. Fish are no longer eaten from the Athabasca River, due to government health warnings.
The study reveals these foods contained elevated levels of heavy metals and carcinogens, and that nearly a quarter of the Aboriginal participants — 23 out of 94 — had cancer, among other ailments.
Government not trusted
The push for the study was motivated by a deep distrust of provincial and federal health officials, who they say have “failed” to comprehensively study the issue, said the leaders.
“One thing most striking… is that both province and federal governments refuse to do anything about [the high rates of cancer]. Even though the pressure is escalating,” said ACFN Chief Allan Adam.
“We are being brainwashed by the Conservative government that everything is ok. It’s not,” he added.
Conservative Health Minister Rona Ambrose’s press secretary was reached in Ottawa to comment on the study, but a statement was not provided.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has previously said:
“Canada’s oil sands producers are deeply concerned about suggestions oil sands development is affecting people’s health, most specifically resident First Nations. Safety is our industry’s top priority and oil sands development must occur in a manner that keeps people safe, and benefits their overall quality of life.”
Questions about cancer in the oil sands have been swirling for months, since Alberta doctor John O’Connor raised concerns in Washington, D.C. in February with U.S. Senators about studies linking the oil sands’ pollution to elevated cancer levels.