In February 2014, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai published a report in the journal Lancet Neurology linking children’s exposure to chemicals to a range of disorders including dyslexia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders, and a host of others. The study focused primarily on the evidence showing that methylmercury, lead, arsenic, toluene, polychlorinated biphenyls, manganese, fluoride, pesticides, flame retardants, and solvents impact brain development in growing children and are linked to lowered IQs, cognitive delays, aggression, hyperactivity and other developmental disorders.
The American Chemistry Council fired back, stating: “The authors focus largely on chemicals and heavy metals that are well understood to be inappropriate for children’s exposure, are highly regulated and/or are restricted or being phased out.” While DDT, one of the solvents studied, has indeed been phased out, a slew of others are still being dumped into the environment.
While some of these chemicals and heavy metals are regulated, disastrous spills and irresponsible dam breaches have occurred at some of the world’s largest mining companies. Just recently, on August 5, 2014, Imperial Metals, a mining company with several mining sites in Canada, dumped over 10 billion liters of wastewater and 5 billion liters of solid tailings waste into the pristine waters of British Columbia. The company had been warned several times about the possibility of their dam breaking over the last couple of years, but continued to dispose of chemicals and hard metals in a tailings pond. While the company’s CEO, Brian Kynoch, claimed that the escaping water was close to drinkable, reports from the mine would lead to a different conclusion. According to a 2013 Mount Polley Mine report from Imperial Metals, the following quantities of neurotoxic chemicals were disposed of on-site at the mine: 20,988 tons of manganese, 406,122 kg of arsenic, 177,041 kg of lead, and 3,114 kg of mercury. Following the dam breach there has been a water ban in the region, prohibiting nearby Indian reservations from drinking the water and fishing for salmon.
Many scientific studies have shown the significant environmental damage that these types of spills do regardless of future clean-up efforts. One such study was presented in 2011 by a team of scientists researching how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico affected sea life. Led by Dr. Peter Roopnarine of the California Academy of Sciences, the team discovered that despite immediate efforts to clean the spill, sea animals in the area had already incorporated heavy metals (like those that Imperial Metals just dumped) and other contaminants into their tissue and shells. Normally fit for consumption by other marine life as well as humans, the mussels and oysters studied had become toxic food sources.
Imperial Metals is largely owned by N. Murray Edwards, the Canadian business guru ranked Number 820 on the Forbes list of the world’s top billionaires. He also chairs the board of directors of Canadian Natural Resources, Ltd., a company which, like Koch Exploration Canada L.P., uses the controversial Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) technique to bring natural gas deposits to the surface of the ground. The SAGD process poisons the ground water and leaks dangerous chemicals into the environment.
The Indians whose drinking water, food, and livelihoods have been threatened by the Imperial Metals spill are outraged. Chief Judy Wilson of the Canadian Neskonlith Indian Band, which owns much of the property on which Imperial Metals operates its mines, issued an eviction notice to the company following the massive polluting event. Chief Wilson stated: “Imperial Metals failed to properly protect Secwepemc land and waters…the caretakers of our land and waters…have an obligation to protect our land for our future generations.”