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HALIFAX, VANCOUVER - Unregulated mink farming in southwestern Nova Scotia is polluting local lakes, putting human health at risk and threatening wildlife, according to a letter written by the David Suzuki Foundation and four Nova Scotia citizen groups concerned with water conservation and protection.

The letter, sent today to Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and Nova Scotia Mink Breeders Association President Earl Prime, notes that manure, carcasses and waste feed from largely unregulated and ever-expanding mink farms in Yarmouth and Digby counties in southwest Nova Scotia have been allowed to seep untreated into local watercourses for years. This has resulted in massive, unsightly blue-green algal blooms and elevated levels of fecal coliforms (bacteria found in animal feces) in several of the area's lakes and rivers.

"Residents from Yarmouth County have been raising alarm bells about this issue with the government of Nova Scotia for almost two decades, and little is being done to address the matter. It's getting worse instead of better," said Debbie Boudreau from the Tri-County Watershed Protection Association. "This industry is now expanding here and throughout the Atlantic Provinces, and now others are taking notice of the waste-management problems associated with this industry. It's time for all levels of government to act on this issue."

Three major studies conducted by Nova Scotia Environment in 2008, 2009 and 2010 show that several lakes in the Wentworth-Carleton, Meteghan and Sissiboo river systems in Yarmouth and Digby counties are being severely impacted and that the situation has been getting worse over time. The studies found that some of the lakes had more than 1,000 times the amounts of phosphorus and fecal coliforms normally found in natural water bodies.

Fecal coliforms are used as an indicator of fecal contamination and to determine the potential presence of disease-causing organisms like E. coli, the bacteria responsible for deaths in Walkerton, Ontario, in May 2000. When high fecal coliform levels are found in water, those areas are often closed to the public for recreation due to health concerns. Blue-green algal blooms can result in fish kills, tainted drinking water and release of toxins that can kill livestock and may, at times, pose a serious health risk to humans.

"Levels like these are unheard of under normal circumstances," said John Werring, aquatic habitat specialist for the David Suzuki Foundation. "The only time we register levels like this is when there are discharges of raw, untreated sewage. When we see those kinds of levels we take proactive measures to protect the environment and public health by building treatment facilities. Why that is not being done here is beyond comprehension."

The groups are asking the Nova Scotia government to quickly develop and enact strict protocols and enforceable regulations for the immediate management of wastes from these operations to protect the water quality in the watersheds where these farms are located.

"Contamination of lakes would be contrary to the province's new Water Strategy," said Fred Wendt, water coordinator with the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre. "This strategy talks about protecting water quality and calls on everyone in Nova Scotia to work toward better management of our water resources. It's disheartening to see that those goals are being undermined."

The letter was sent on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, the Tri-County Watershed Protection Association, the Yarmouth YMCA, the Ecology Action Centre and the Clyde River Land Use Committee.

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For more information contact:

Debbie Boudreau, Tri-Country Watershed Protection Association, 902-749-3331
Fred Wendt, Ecology Action Centre, 902-442-5046
John Werring, David Suzuki Foundation, 604-732-4228 ext. 1245

Read the letter (pdf) sent to Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and Nova Scotia Mink Breeders Association President Earl Prime.

View the technical brief (pdf) on the impacts of the mink industry on lakes in Nova Scotia.

April 25, 2011

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