OTTAWA On Aug. 2 the Government of Canada pledged $150 million during 2005-06 toward the cleanup of 97 contaminated federal sites. Direct remediation costs at the sites is $138.7 million, and the balance will be spent to assess another 500 sites.
Environment Minister Stephane Dion made the announcement in Yellowknife. This city is home to the former Giant gold mine, which is among the higher risk sites in the north. The arsenic removed from the ore since mining began in 1948 is stored underground. Measures need to be taken to ensure that the toxic metal does not migrate into the environment. Activities at the site this year will involve additional site investigations, assessments and surface remediation activities.
Several other familiar mine sites are on the list: Faro, Mount Nansen and Keno Hill in the Yukon; and Colomac and Port Radium in the Northwest Territories. Port Radium, where uranium was mined for the development of the atomic bomb during World War II and into the 1960s, has a particularly nasty legacy. Not only are the site and nearby villages contaminated with radioactivity, the miners worked unprotected from the hazards of handling ore and yellowcake. Port Radium has been called the "village of widows" for the high death rate among miners working there.
There are also many older mine sites that I am not familiar with: Roberts Bay, Discovery, Tundra-Taurcanis and Silver Bear in the Northwest Territories, as well as Clinton Creek in the Yukon. These mines must have been abandoned nearly 30 years ago when I started my mining career. That being the case, they have been polluting far too long.
The mine sites scheduled for immediate attention are only some of approximately 4,000 sites of all types listed in the federal inventory of contaminated sites. The current status of all sites breaks out like this:
Under assessment, 45.9%
Under remediation, 7.5%
Remediated and under risk management, 3.7%
Under risk management, 18.1%
Remediation complete, 16.9%
Remediation by third party, 1.1%
Assessed and requiring no action, 6.8%
There is much cleanup work yet to be done. It only lacks money. In the 2004 federal budget, $3.5 billion was committed long-term toward remediating sites for which the government is responsible. The inventory can be examined at www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/dfrp-rbif/cs-sc/.
Perhaps I am feeling a bit pessimistic. The list of sites is so long and the cost of cleanup so high that I wonder if the job can ever be accomplished. And we haven’t even touched on contaminated sites that are the responsibility of provincial, territorial or local governments.
Meanwhile, new sites continue to pollute. The good news is that Canadian environmental laws have been toughened, and mines are now operating with much less disturbance to the environment. I am proud that the mining industry has become a leader in this area and urge it to continue finding solutions.