'National disgrace': Mould leaves children with respiratory issues in remote First Nation
CTVNews.ca Staff, with a report from CTV News’ Manitoba Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon
Published Thursday, February 7, 2019 8:52PM EST
Black mould in the homes of a small First Nations community in northern Ontario has left some children with respiratory issues and rashes, while one child has had to be airlifted for emergency treatment.
The chief of Cat Lake First Nation, about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, issued a state of emergency last month due to the "profoundly poor conditions of housing” in the area. The community states 87 of the 128 homes have been deemed uninhabitable because of excessive mould.
Chief Matthew Keewaykapow told CTV News that the conditions have led some of the community’s 600 residents to suffer from bacterial diseases, rashes and lung infections, while one child had to be flown out of the region for hospital care.
"We've lost elders due to respiratory problems,” he said. “We've lost children. They can't go to school because they have skin diseases."
Keewaykapow says the situation has been ongoing since 2006, but reached a critical stage last month. He hopes the government orders an evacuation of the community while the homes in disrepair can be demolished. He also wants to bring in 40 temporary housing units for the winter.
NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the northern Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay, toured the First Nations community on Tuesday and posted several shocking images of the living conditions to social media. The images depict several children with skin infections on their face, arms and chest.
"A disgrace of this magnitude is a national disgrace,” Angus said. “The minister needs to be in the community because we are dealing with a full-on health crisis that’s damaging the lives of children and has caused deaths in the community.”
Federal Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan told reporters his department is working with the community to come up with a solution.
"We're accelerating those short-term repairs the houses that we can do,” he said. “In the long term we're working on a housing strategy for the community."
While O’Regan has promised to work with the community, Keewaykapow says he has yet to hear any concrete timeline for action.
“It’s mostly just telling us: ‘We’re going to do something about it,’ but there’s no plans,” he said.
Cat Lake First Nation’s elders were to meet with officials from Indigenous Services on Thursday, though O’Regan was not scheduled to be in attendance.
Improved building design could be a solution
David Miller, a toxicologist and chemistry professor at Carleton University, told CTV News Channel that prolonged exposure to mould can result in an increased risk of asthma -- especially among young children -- and an increased risk of respiratory disease.
“Living or working in a mouldy building for a year or two years increases the relative risk of acquiring the recognized symptoms,” he said.
Miller adds the mould has been an issue in remote First Nations communities throughout Canada for more than 25 years, but there are ways to fix the problem.
“The one area that I think we could do a lot better is improving the designs (of the buildings), but most importantly improving the information that’s available that targeted to people living in rural and remote communities,” he said.
With files from The Canadian Press