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NEWS: Contaminated sites threaten the right to water in Canada

The Globe and Mail reports, “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. …As the government reforms the environmental assessment process, it’s worth remembering the high price of slipshod oversight from previous decades, Mr. Vaughan said at a news conference Tuesday. Most of the contaminated sites date back to between 1940 and 1970, well before environmental regulations cracked down on resource extraction and development, the watchdog said.”

The impacts of mines and radioactive waste dumps
“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, Mr. Vaughan said.” Postmedia News adds, “The sites identified in the commissioner’s report became contaminated due to operations of the federal government as well as from tenants on Crown lands, such as with private mining companies extracting gold and other metals under federal permits.”

Beyond identifying the Giant Mine in the Nortwest Territories which has “three large tailings ponds that require water treatment and discharge”, the audit also specifies the Faro Mine in the Yukon noting it has an, “Estimated 64,000 hectares of contaminated soil and groundwater on this site. Leaching of acids and metals into groundwater and surface water; long-term treatment of contaminated water (at least 100 years) and sludge, and potential physical instability of tailings dams and waste rock dumps.”

Contaminated sites threaten drinking water
The audit states that 15.5 per cent of the contaminated sites affect groundwater, 13.52 per cent affect sediment, and 5.60 per cent affect surface water. It adds, “Site investigations show that most confirmed sites have soil contamination, which is the result of fuelling activities, spilling, leaking from above ground storage tanks, or dumping of contaminants on the ground. The quality of groundwater and surface water is also often affected. Contaminants can be mobile. They can penetrate soil and migrate into on-site or off-site drinking water sources or be released from bottom sediments in lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.”

The Globe and Mail reports, “Hundreds of the sites are in cities, he said, pointing in particular to Ottawa and Montreal. And often the sites are near aquifers that are tapped for drinking water. However, many of the sites are still to be evaluated, so no one really knows how risky they are, the audit noted.”

And CBC notes, “Environment Canada, the audit concluded, ‘has done limited inspections of petroleum storage tanks on federal facilities to ensure that departments were registering them, as required under the 1997 regulations.’ The report also noted the risk posed by these storage tanks is serious. ‘Depending on the surrounding environment and the amount and type of petroleum products that have spilled or leaked, the impact could be very significant. For example, one litre of gasoline can render one million litres of water unfit for human consumption.'”

As noted above, “As the government reforms the environmental assessment process, it’s worth remembering the high price of slipshod oversight from previous decades, Mr. Vaughan said at a news conference Tuesday.” The Council of Canadians has endorsed a petition campaign that demands: ‘Stop the plan to roll back Canada’s environmental laws’. To sign that petition, please go to In early-March, we joined with more than 40 other groups to call for stronger environmental assessment laws in Canada,

To read the Commissioner of the Environment’s report on federal contaminated sites and their impacts, go to