TIMMINS -- Recently released test results are showing high levels of contamination among certain of species of fish in Timmins' Porcupine Lake.

The test was conducted by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, showing high levels of mercury and the metal chromium.

For Brenda Torresan, member of local environmental group Friends of the Porcupine River Watershed, the tests confirmed what many of their members already suspected.

"It tells me, personally, I wouldn't eat the fish from the lake, some people choose to," Torresan said. "I hope that we can resolve the issues so that things get better for the life in the lake."

Limit fish consumption

Torresan said it's been around 20 years since the lake's fish had been tested and that the group had been asking for testing since at least 2018.

A public committee comprising of members of the local environmental group, city officials and representatives from Newmont Porcupine and the Canadian Environmental Law Association, met with a provincial biologist Monday to review the test results and discuss possible courses of action.

Due to the levels of contamination, the province recommends the public limit their consumption of the following species: northern pike (two per month), and walleye, white sucker and yellow perch (one per month.)

The province also recommends women and children under the age of 15 not eat any fish from Porcupine Lake.

Ministry investigation needed

As for the cause of the contamination, ministry biologist Satyendra Bhavsar said there are many possible natural and human-made sources.

"Fish can accumulate contaminants in their muscles through absorption from the surrounding water, but mostly from the prey that they eat," Bhavsar said in an email to CTV. "Some airborne contaminants can travel long distances in the atmosphere and return to the earth in rain and snowfall."

Mercury contamination is common in Ontario, said Bhavsar, although the levels in Porcupine Lake are in the higher range.

What needs investigation is the source of the chromium, he said, after which the ministry can plan next steps.

Cleaning up the lake

With the lake's history of municipal dumping and sewage bypassing, city councillor John Curley said it wouldn't surprise him if that's part of the cause.

"The lake was a great lake many, many years ago, but it's been contaminated over years," Curley said. "We're hoping to at least bring it back (to normal) but it's probably not going to happen in my lifetime."

It takes time for contaminants to leave a fish's system, according to biologists, but Curley said people should still enjoy Porcupine Lake for boating and catch-and-release fishing.

Curley hopes, though, that the city's work to upgrade the sewer system will limit damage to the lake caused by overflow bypassing.

Torresan's goal is to finally remediate the lakefront in the summer, which she said would include trimming weeds that fish could eat and potentially consume contaminants.

But with ice fishing season on the way, she urges people to take extra caution this winter.

"Keep track of the number of fish that you decide to eat during the winter months and if you're in the sensitive population, please don't eat any."