Late in April 2009, the Federal Court of Canada released a decision that will force mineral producers to report levels of toxins released to the environment to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). Previously Environment Canada had exempted mines and mineral processing plants from the requirement to report, but a lawsuit brought by MiningWatch Canada and Ecojustice in 2007 has removed the exemption. Pollution information from mining operations will now be available to the public.
The NPRI (www.EC.gc.ca/inrp-npri/) was established in 1993 to collect information on over 300 different pollutants released by Canadian industries. That information is maintained in a publically accessible database. Several mining operations have regularly submitting information to the NPRI, but now any operation employing more than 10 people must do the same.
Environmentalists are hailing the court ruling as a tremendous victory. I’m sure they will express outrage when they read of the compounds reported from mineral producers. Many of the substances that must be reported are metals, including silver, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, copper, aluminum and more.
The inclusion of arsenic makes sense, but copper? In truth the inclusion of these metals is made to cover many of their deleterious compounds, and is sensible, too. But if the reporting requirement is taken at strictly face value, imagine reporting copper cathode output from Kidd Creek or refined zinc from Trail. Certainly that is not the intent of the NPRI, and I trust common sense to prevail.
Mining companies will understandably complain if reporting costs add up to a substantial amount, especially as commodity prices have dropped so drastically. But in the end, inclusion in the NPRI is logical, and miners will comply.
The problem I anticipate is that environmentalists will use the numbers to inflame public opinion without understanding the mineral industry any better than they do now.