Northern Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer took the floor this morning at the Cameco re-licensing hearings being held in La Ronge.
Dr. James Irvine says extensive studies on health impacts in the north began in the 1990’s.
He says they looked at everything from cancer rates to social-health and hospitalizations and a variety of other health determinants.
When it comes to the rate of cancer in the north, Irvine says uranium mining wasn’t his chief concern:
“So in terms of cancer being seen to be a result of uranium mining I think, by far, the greatest risk we face is more the issue of tobacco smoking on lung cancer and a variety of other cancers there.”
Irvine says radon gas is another factor to be considered as well.
When asked by the commission what he would really like to see tackled, Irvine told them he would like to see more work done on mental health and social impacts in northern communities.
Elders from the Athabasca basin also took turns outlining their concerns about uranium mines in their areas.
Some say trappers are finding oil-drums and other garbage near their trap-lines while another elder told the commission that the caribou’s migratory patterns have changed due to industrial activity.
Joseph Tsannie is a vice-chief with the Prince Albert Grand Council.
He says many people in the Far North want the abandoned Gunnar mine to be cleaned up properly:
“The question that many individuals ask is that if industry cannot clean up its site, like Gunnar, then why are they asking for longer licenses?”
He asked the commission to ensure that the mine clean-ups go ahead in the future.
Joseph was later told by the commission that the Gunnar mine clean-up is underway.
One elder also voiced concern to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission about the amount of waste-rock piled near the shoreline of Wollaston Lake.
Emil Hansen says it doesn’t make sense to him and he’s worried it could be radioactive.
“I wonder why they have to stock-pile it so close to the lake. There’s a lot of room in the bush where they could probably bury it if they’re not going to use it again. I am really concerned about that stockpile, I feel like it might be radiation or radioactive material in that waste-rock.”
Hansen says local residents get nervous when a westerly wind blows dust away from the pile.
An official with Cameco says they are constantly monitoring the air and soil.
Liam Mooney says emissions detection shows there are no effects to the lake.
Both the village of Pinehouse and the Prince Albert Grand Council say they’re not opposed to development, but they want to be included in the work and to receive assurances it’s being done safely.
Both groups say 3rd-party observation of the company’s testing procedures would be a good idea, along with greater community participation in that process.