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NEWS: Abandoned gold mine threatens Great Slave Lake in the NWT

Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development staff observe a Great Slave Lake beach area contaminated with arsenic from the Giant Mine.

Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development staff observe a Great Slave Lake beach area contaminated with arsenic from the Giant Mine.

The Canadian Press reports, “Federal officials are scrambling to clean up a crumbling, abandoned northern gold mine that is in imminent danger of releasing massive amounts of arsenic, asbestos and other toxins.” The Royal Oak Mines Ltd.-owned Giant Mine project is on the shore of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. The mine closed in 2004, but about 237,000 tonnes of highly toxic, water-soluble arsenic trioxide remained on the site, some of it in subterranean chambers, but some of it in surface structures — “uncontained and, in many cases, exposed to the elements”.

Great Slave Lake is the second-largest lake in the Northwest Territories. Communities situated on the lake include Yellowknife, Hay River, Behchoko, Fort Resolution, Lutselk’e, Hay River Reserve, Dettah and N’Dilo.

“Mark Palmer (a senior adviser with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development) said the work needs to start this summer before the poison starts escaping. …He said he hopes regulatory approvals will be in place by June.” The clean-up will be a challenge. “The worst-contaminated surface building, where arsenic and gold were separated, would have to be sealed off as it was taken apart. Workers would have to wear full hazmat suits and breathe supplied air. …Whatever the cost, it would be borne by taxpayers. Giant was built before northern miners were required to post environmental cleanup bonds — in fact, the mess left at Giant is one of the reasons such legislation was drafted.”

In May 2012, the Globe and Mail reported, “Ottawa is looking at $7.7-billion in cleanup costs for (an estimated 22,000) contaminated sites, but has only set aside a fraction of the necessary funding, Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan found. …The biggest sites – including the Giant Mine as well as the low-level radioactive waste dumps in Port Hope, Ont. – are at the top of the government’s priority list for cleanup, but they are devouring the federal funding…” The article also noted that “often the sites are near aquifers that are tapped for drinking water”.

Earlier this month, the Council of Canadians formed a new chapter in the Northwest Territories.

For more, please see:
NEWS: Contaminated sites threaten the right to water in Canada