Make Muskrat Right

by andrewsd on November 25, 2016 - 4:52pm


Make Muskcat Right


CBC has reported protesters have broken through Newfoundland and Labrador’s crown power generation company Nalcor’s gates of their Muskrat Falls’ Lower Churchill hydroelectric dam project on October 22nd 2016. This is concerning the controversy of a possible increase of methyl mercury accumulation in marine biota after a published Harvard study. Methyl mercury is known to damage the brain and neural systems and so protestors are asking Nalcor to rid the floodplain of all vegetation which would leak the methylmercury from the benthic sediment. The Nunatsiavut tribe claim to be protecting their right to their land, culture and health. As a precaution, RCMP has closed the road into the project in response to the protestors. There have been protests across the country calling on Nalcor to “Make Muskcat Right”.

CBC says that Nalcor is downplaying the Harvard study, saying they will conduct their own monitoring and make decisions on what they find. Nalcor officials agree with the Harvard findings but disagree that whatever the level of contamination, it will not reach Lake Melville downstream of the LCP which is the location of Labrador’s Inuit. Nalcor says they will issue warnings if their monitoring shows any level of methyl mercury increase past regulatory standards. Inuit leaders say the situation is risking their culture and health and a warning system is not sufficient enough to protect their rights.

Further controversy continues with CBC reports of a Harvard University researcher, Elsie Sunderland, that was inaccurately cited by the provincial government to conduct a new study by request of the Nunatsiavut government. Elsie Sunderland is one the researchers that worked on the Lake Melville study the Nunatsiavut government cited. Harvard refutes this claim saying that this type of work is not done by Elsie Sunderland, she does research purely for her laboratory.

            I am upset with Nalcor neglecting their duty to prevent methyl mercury contamination by removing the vegetation in the floodplain. The warning of methyl mercury contamination and recommendation of removal of the soil layer was mentioned in the federal governments environment impact assessment (EIA) (see recommendations 4.5 and 6.5, I have attached a link to this) conducted by the government in 2012 before the project was to commence. Due to Harper’s omni-bus Bill C-38 in 2012, EIAs were streamlined to make more projects go through without much consideration. The bill decreases timelines, gives all the power to political figures and basically removes any public participation, allowing the procession of the project at the provincial level despite contrary cautions.

Nalcor has only promised to do a partial removal of the vegetation which I think is ridiculous. This is due to the fact that Nalcor’s LCP has already gone way over budget by billions of dollars all in an effort to make Newfoundland and Labrador a “have” province by exporting power to Quebec and the states. CBC reports Harvard’s study claims that full removal of the vegetation layer will result in only 13% increase of methyl mercury whereas a partial can lead to 380% increase. Despite such claims, nowhere does the study state 380%, although it does anticipate 25-200% (correct me if you will) which is still substantial and worth noting. Along with the controversy of who is involved in the proposal of a new study between the provincial and Nunatsiavut governments and Harvard University, the confusion on how much methyl mercury could increase shows poor communication and poor management by all parties involved. I have attached a link to the Harvard study below.

This is not only a health and environmental issue, but a First Nation’s rights problem. Under the Canadian Constitution, Inuit have the right to their culture and land. Hunting and fishing is an important food resource and cultural resource. Nalcor essentially poisoning their land and food disrupts the Inuit’s ability to express cultural identity and take pride in food that have hunted or fished themselves. They value the area for different reasons than Nalcor. Nalcor needs to recognize the difference in value. It is an injustice to the Inuit to allow Nalcor this agency over the land.

Nalcor should have done a better job at predicting the project costs. A more vigorous EIA and following the numerous federal governments recommendations (especially recommendation 4.1) could have saved a lot of frustration from this controversy. I do hope that Nalcor decides to clear all the vegetation before they begin to flood the area which CBC says could begin in the next month. I don’t believe any kind of monetary compensation or issues given by Nalcor will be sufficient for the Inuit people. Myself and many others are calling on Nalcor to “Make Muskrat Right”.




Wall, L. (2016, October 23). Muskrat Falls protesters 'fighting for land and food' Retrieved November 19, 2016, from

Roberts, T. (2016, April 18). Nalcor downplays study findings into methylmercury fears at Muskrat Falls. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from

Bartlett, G. (2016, October 19). Harvard says N.L. government wrongly cited professor for planned methylmercury study. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from

Government of Canada Response to the Report of the Joint Federal-Provincial Review Panel for Nalcor’s Lower Churchill Generation Project in Newfoundland and Labrador. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2016, from

Schartup, A. T., Balcom, P. H., Soerensen, A. L., Gosnell, K. J., Calder, R. S., Mason, R. P., & Sunderland, E. M. (2015, September 8). Freshwater discharges drive high levels of methylmercury in Arctic marine biota. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(38), 11789-11794. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from