Hundreds of thousands of tons of highly toxic chemcials such as arsenic and cyanide are found at northern abandoned mines … As a result of past mining operations, toxic chemicals and acidic mixtures have accumulated over time and have the potential to pollute groundwater and surface water. These chemicals are contained in structures that are deteriorating rapidly and that require regular care. In some cases, time is running out, and there could be significant environmental damage if nothing is done. 
Report of the Federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, 2002

NEW: Mining in Lake Superior web page

Northwatch Comments on the Sudbury Soils Study's Ecological Risk Assessment, September 4th, 2009

Northwatch Comments on the Lease Renewal and Expanded Commodites List for Fisher Habour, August 31st, 2009

Northwatch Submission on Bill 173 - Mining Act "Modernization", August 13th, 2009

Community Committee formed to address concerns with Sudbury Soils Study

Northwatch Comments on Changes to the Mining Act


Algoma Steel Convicted

New Pro-Mining Blog

Arsenic Concerns in Cobalt Lake Prompt Swimming Warning

De Beers and Atawapiskat First Nation Negotiate Impact Benefit Agreement

Tougher Regulations Needed for Base Metal Smelters

Arsenic Exposure Measured in Falconbridge Residents

Federal Environmental Assessment Underway of De Beers' Victor Diamond Mine

Wawa Town Council Launches Campaign Against Environmental Assessment of  a Trap Rock Mine on Superior Shoreline

Mine Claims in Attawapiskat Diamond Rush Staked Illegally

Sudbury's Contaminated Soils Subject of Multi-Year Study

Environmental Review Tribunal Refuses Hearing on Montcalm Effluent Permit

Northwatch Appeals Permit to Pollute Issued for Montcalm Mine

De Beers Backs Off on James Bay Diamond Mine

Arsenic Concerns in Falconbridge

Global Protest to get INCO to "Clean Up its Act"

MNR Proposes Park Giveaway to Permit Falco's Mine Effluent Ditch Through Groundhog River Waterway Park

Porcupine Joint Venture Mine Expansion Subject of Federal EA

Environment Canada Hosts Diamond Mine Workshop

Debeers Pushes  Ahead with Diamond Development in James Bay Lowlands

Falconbridge Ditches Mine Effluent - they're going for the Groundhog!

Falconbridge Seeks Permit for Montcalm Project - concerns with potential for acid run-off

Northcott Gold Skirts Permit Requirements

The Kam Kotia Mine Disaster - Ontario's most notorious mine waste problem

The Boreal Below: Mining Issues and Activities in Canada's Boreal Forest Region

UnderMining Superior: A Report on Mining Activities and Impacts in the Lake Superior Basin

Mining and the Environment: A Backgrounder on Public Concerns

Algoma Steel Convicted

Algoma Steel Inc. has been fined $75,000, plus a victim fine surcharge, after pleading guilty to violating the Ontario Water Resources Act. The Court heard that Algoma Steel Inc. left a drain valve open following maintenance work, resulting in the discharge of de-ammoniated liquor. The liquor, which contained high phenol concentrations, flowed directly to the main plant sewer and main water filtration plant. Algoma Steel Inc. was charged following an investigation by the Ministry of the Environment's Investigations and Enforcement Branch. The case was heard in the Ontario Court of Justice in Sault St. Marie and sentence imposed on March 27, 2008.

Northwatch News - Spring 2008

New Pro-Mining Blog

A new pro-mining blog called the "Republic of Mining" has been launched, and can be found on line at Senior executives and other industry leaders are invited to submit their commentary and speeches about contentious issues and challenges.

Regularly updated content on mining politics and industry profiles including Sudbury Area Mining Service Supply Association members plus exciting stories will ensure the Republic of Mining will become a key information tool for the mainstream media, political decision makers, and the general public.

Reprinted without permission

Northwatch News - Spring 2008

Arsenic Concerns in Cobalt Lake Prompt Swimming Warning

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has completed a Screening Level Human Health Risks Assessment (SL-HHRA) through soil testing along the Heritage Silver Trail in Cobalt. The Trail is a combination walking and driving tour throughout the historic mine sites within the townships of Coleman and Cobalt. The testing results show elevated levels of 16 heavy metal contaminants, including Arsenic as the main focus.

Elevated levels of metals and arsenic in the Cobalt mining camp site have raised concerns with the Timiskaming Health Unit. An ongoing provincial study to assess environmental impact of present and past mining operations in Ontario have revealed that four mill sites situated along the Heritage Silver Trail contain arsenic levels above provincial and federal drinking water guidelines, according to a June 17 Health Unit press release.

Although the sites pose no immediate health concerns under normal conditions, says the Temiskaming Health Unit, a June 17 advisory against swimming, playing or fishing in the Cobalt Lake was issued.

"We want residents and visitors to be aware of this situation so they can take steps to protect themselves from exposure, which will reduce the potential for any health effects," Dr. Pat Logan, acting Medical Officer of Health said in the release. "Specifically, these steps are to avoid any recreational use of the lake so as to prevent accidental ingestion of lake water."

As part of their mandate to protect the environment, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) is studying the environmental impact of current and historic mining operations in several regions of Ontario.  The MOE conducted soil sampling programs in mining communities across the province to determine areas needing further investigation.  Within Cobalt and Coleman, the MOE had identified the Heritage Silver Trail as an area of concern. Further study was conducted to determine the potential risks to human health from exposure to soils with elevated levels of heavy metals and arsenic..  This risk determination process is called a SLHHRA.

MOE soil samples taken in Cobalt and Coleman at 4 sites along the Heritage Silver Trail revealed elevated levels of arsenic and other metals along the trail.  The MOE advised the health unit that exposure to these levels may represent a potential health risk to some trail visitors under certain conditions.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance in the earth's crust. It occurs in several forms, often in compounds with other chemical elements. Arsenic and all of its compounds may present health risks at high doses, under certain exposure conditions. Inorganic arsenic - arsenic combined with oxygen, chlorine or sulfur - is thought to present the highest potential health risk, while most organic forms of arsenic are relatively less toxic. Arsenic may be present in mine tailings or where there are airborne emissions from mining activities.

Exposure can occur through ingesting food or drinking water containing arsenic, breathing in air containing traces of arsenic, coming in direct contact with arsenic in soil or surface water on the skin, or living in areas with unusually high natural levels of arsenic in rock. Due to their active play behaviours combined with lower body weight, children tend to have greater risks of exposure to environmental substances than adults. Infants and young children also experience mouthing activity, which increases their exposure to soil and dust on their hands, surfaces and toys. Their size and play habits also contribute to airborne exposure as they are closer to the ground and typically come in closer contact with soils. The SLHHRA study on the Heritage Silver Trail assessed exposures to toddlers (7 months to 4 years old). However, the exposures and risks for individual children will depend on a number of factors, including where and how long they play in the study areas, the types of activities they participate in, and the concentrations of arsenic and metals in the play locations.

Warning signs are posted around Cobalt Lake as a precaution to advise visitors to Cobalt Lake that exposure to the lake water could potentially lead to health effects under certain conditions. More information is needed to fully define the environmental conditions in the lake. Until then, minimizing exposure to excess levels of arsenic significantly reduces the risk of potential health effects. Where there is no exposure, there is no risk.

Northwatch News, Summer 2005

De Beers and Atawapiskat First Nation Negotiate Impact Benefit Agreement

Attawapiskat First Nation has voted in favour of an Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) between Attawapiskat First Nation and De Beers Canada. The IBA covers De Beers' Victor diamond project, 90 km west of the Attawapiskat community in the James Bay lowlands.

The agreement sets out the benefits the community will receive from the project and details how the impacts will be mitigated. It includes commitments from the company regarding training and education, employment and business opportunities, environmental management, social and cultural issues and financial compensation.
But according to some reports, Attawapiskat First Nation has been guaranteed only 12% of the jobs.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency released the Comprehensive Study Report for the project in early June presenting the outcomes of the environmental assessment process. The public had until July 11, 2005, to submit final comments on the CSR. Following EA approval, the IBA will be signed by the community and De Beers Canada. De Beers has stated that they are  hopeful that the Environmental Assessment will be approved in time for construction to begin in January 2006.

The Victor Project is an open-pit diamond mine and on-site processing facilities located approximately 90km west of the First Nation community of Attawapiskat, within the James Bay Lowlands in Ontario. The project also includes a transportation and power supply corridor from the Town of Moosonee to the community of Attawapiskat and on to the mine site. Mining and processing are proposed to be carried out at an approximate ore throughput rate of 2.5 million tonnes per year for approximately 12 years, with commercial production scheduled to commence in 2007

Northwatch News, Summer 2005

Tougher Regulations Needed for Base Metal Smelters

Several environmental groups engaged in pollution prevention planning with Environment Canada are urging the federal government to take action to reduce smelter emissions.

Smelters in Canada continue to be a major source of pollution to air, land and water. In the 2002 National Pollutant Release Inventory, the three largest emitters of CEPA toxics to air in Canada were Base Metal Smelters - Inco Copper Cliff, Inco Thompson, Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting - and the BMS sector in total produced more than 26% of all CEPA toxic reported releases to air . The Hudson Bay Minerals smelter in FlinFlon is the largest point source of mercury emissions to air in Canada (over 1340 kg annually). Workers and residents in several smelter towns have elevated rates of asthma, cancer and other pollutant related ailments.

The legacy from these smelters will live on in the soil, water and ecosystem long after the smelters have closed down. Over the years, many smelters have reduced their emissions, but base metal smelters remain the single largest source of sulphur dioxide in Canada, as well as mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead, beryllium and nickel.

Environment Canada is proposing to reduce smelter emissions through Pollution Prevention Planning, which is voluntary rather than regulatory in nature. The proposed Notice for this sector lists targets and limits for emission reductions that are not enforceable. Environmental groups are calling on the federal government to force technological change through regulation.

For more information see the Action Alert posted at

Northwatch News, Winter / Spring 2005

Arsenic Exposure Measured in Falconbridge Residents

According to recent coverage in the Sudbury Star, a team conducting the arsenic exposure study in the Town of Falconbridge has gotten to work distributing notices and setting up appointments to test arsenic levels in residents' urine.

The report says that the decision to launch the study was made last year after residents grew concerned when they were notified that higher than normal levels of arsenic were found in soils in the town. The elevated levels were discovered in the course of sampling being done for the Sudbury Soils Study, a four-year, $5-million study to examine the level of harmful chemicals in Sudbury soils and the risk of adverse human health effects.

Falconbridge soil was found to contain five times the level of arsenic set out in Ministry of the Environment guidelines. The levels were enough to prompt the Sudbury and District Health Unit to go door to door telling people to use caution by doing things such as washing vegetables, covering exposed soil and keeping dust levels down to lessen their exposure.

The Falconbridge Citizen's Group is overseeing the arsenic exposure study, which is being funded by Falconbridge Ltd.

It was the citizen group's concerns with high arsenic levels, expressed at several public meetings, that prompted the study. Fifteen members of the study team were in the community in early September, inviting families to participate in the study, which will begin in September and last until early October.

Hanmer has been selected as a comparison community for the study. About 200 families have been randomly invited to participate by completing interviews and providing urine samples for arsenic analysis. The levels of urinary arsenic in the Hamner residents will be compared to those from Falconbridge.

Northwatch News, Fall 2004

Federal Environmental Assessment Underway of De Beers' Victor Diamond Mine

A federal environmental assessment is now underway of De Beer's proposed Victor Diamond Mine in the James Bay lowlands. De Beers Canada Corporation has submitted a proposal to construct, operate and then close an open-pit diamond mine and related infrastructure and facilities at the Victor site, 90 km west of the community of Attawapiskat. The project is subject to a comprehensive study under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Comprehensive studies are a class of environmental assessment which consists largely of technical studies, with the public given the opportunity to comment. The federal Minister of the Environment can choose to refer the project to an environmental assessment hearing to address outstanding issues or significant environmental concerns. A sixty day review of the Comprehensive Study commenced on April 16, with a June 15th deadline for comments. Both Attawapiskat First Nation and Mushkegowuk Council have requested an extension to 180 days, which the federal agency is considering in consultation with De Beers.

Key concerns include the potential for acid mine drainage, the effects of releasing saline groundwater into rivers and creeks, and the significant impacts related to access and power generation, including the shipment by ocean freighter or large volumes of fuel and subsequent transfer to a proposed main- land pipeline.

Information about the federal EA is available online at <>

Northwatch News, Spring 2004

Wawa Town Council Launches Campaign Against Environmental Assessment of  a Trap Rock Mine on Superior Shoreline

Michipicoten Township has launched a full-tilt campaign against the Ministry of the Environment requiring an environmental assessment of a trap rock mine on the shores of Lake Superior.

If allowed to proceed, the massive aggregate operation - Carlos Construction owns 1000 acres of shoreline - will see Superior Aggregates drilling, blasting and crushing ancient bedrock into aggregate, and washing and stockpiling the aggregate on the shores of Lake Superior before it is shipped by lake freighter to markets in the U.S. and possibly southern Ontario. The project will create 15 to 18 permanent jobs.

The municipality is crusading against any environmental assessment being done, in response to the Ministry of the Environment's request for additional public input on a proposal to designate the project under the Environmental Assessment Act. If designated under the EAA, the project would be subject to an environmental assessment review, and possibly a hearing. Comments must be received by May 3.

The municipal campaign includes radio and newspaper ads, a letter-writing blitz, and a door-to-door canvas to get signatures on a letter from the Township opposing an EA. The letter has also been available for signing at the town hall and the Community Centre.

Concerns include potential environmental impacts, as well as negative social, cultural and economic effects. Environmental effects include potential for acid mine drainage, leaching of heavy metals, spills and other pollutants related to the freighter movement, and dust and noise, as well as loss of habitat and impacts on the area's wilderness qualities.

Letters supporting the project being the subject of an environmental assessment should be received by the Ministry of the Environment no later than May 3rd. For more information, visit the web site for the Citizens Concerned for Michipicoten Bay at Letters should be sent to Heather Brown, Environmental Assessment and Approvals Branch, 2 St. Clair West, Suite 12A, Toronto, M4V 1L5 or be sent by fax  416-314-8452 or email All letters should quote EBR Registry Number:  RA04E0001.

For more information <visit>

Northwatch News, Spring 2004

Mine Claims in Attawapiskat Diamond Rush Staked Illegally

A massive mapping error on the part of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines left a candidate waterway park on the Attawapiskat River open for mineral exploration, despite a 1979 withdrawal order which removed a 200 metre band on either side of the river from staking. The error was discovered in early March, and MNDM scrambled to "protect existing claims and leases in the area and to legally confirm the validity of these claims and leases".

The story begins in the late 1970's, when areas bordering seven northern rivers were withdrawn from staking during a land use planning process. For the eastern end of the Attawapiskat River, the land use planning process was never completed, and the area continued to be withdrawn from staking, although a decision to regulate the park was never formally taken. Mineral exploration moved into the area in the mid-1980's, but government maps were never updated, and "a lengthy stretch of the Attawapiskat River was erroneously shown as being open for staking".

On April 20th, MNDM secured an Order-in- Council (a formal cabinet decision) which gives the Minister of Mines the "approval to validate" the more than 50 illegal mining claims, in effect making them retroactively legal. A new withdrawal  order has been issued to  prevent continued staking.  The Ministry of Natural  Resources has removed  33 km of the river from the candidate protected area.

Northwatch News, Spring 2004

Sudbury's Contaminated Soils Subject of Multi-Year Study

The multi-year Sudbury Soils Study has entered the final year of its workplan, with critical decisions to be made over the several months about the "acceptability" of risks posed by soils contaminated by decades of metal smelting, and possible remedial actions.

The initiative was launched in 2001, following the release of a Ministry of the Environment Report summarizing 30 years of sampling results. The MOE had documented four contaminants (nickel, cobalt, copper and arsenic; lead was added to the study in July 2003) that exceeded their guidelines for levels of contamination. The Ministry then conducted a massive sampling program in the summer and fall of 2001, and required INCO and Falconbridge to conduct human health and ecological risk assessments to determine if there are any risks to people and / or the environment as a result of the soil contamination.

A Technical Committee drives the process. Consisting of INCO, Falconbridge, the City of Sudbury, the Ministry of the Environment, the Sudbury and District Health Unit, and Health Canada First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, the Technical Committee sets terms of reference and membership for themselves and the Public Advisory Committee, selects consultants, and provides technical guidance in completing the Human Risk Assessment and Ecological Risk Assessment and any associated studies.

A Public Advisory Committee meets bi- monthly and provides advice to the Technical Committee from a public perspective.

A consortium of consulting companies, now known as the SARA Group (Sudbury Area Risk Assessment) was established to provide consulting services in the Sudbury region, and in particular to undertake the Sudbury area Human Risk Assessment and Ecological Risk Assessment. The SARA Group was contracted in early 2003, more than 6 months behind schedule. Reasons cited for the delay included "lengthy discussions with the Technical Committee as to the details and content of the Request for Proposals" and the length of time required to establish the criteria for the selection and evaluation process of responses to the RFP. The SARA Group includes consulting firms C. Wren and Associates, Cantox Environmental Inc., Lakefield Research, Goss Gilroy Inc., Rowan William Davies and Irwin Inc, McLeod-Wood Associates, Hellingman Communications, and Dr. Lesbia Smith.

A number of controversies have plagued the Sudbury Soils Study over the last several months, including concerns raised about the selection of a scientist who had acted as INCO's expert in a hearing related to Port Colburne contaminated soils (another INCO contaminated community) as the independent scientific advisory for the Sudbury Soils Study. Other concerns have included the rejection by the Technical Committee of requests from the United Steelworkers of American and the C.A.W. Mine Mill to be represented on the public and technical committees, and the in-camera nature of the Technical Committee meetings. This latter concern has been addressed by allowing up to one hour before each TC meeting to hear from the public, prior to the closed meeting getting underway.

For more information call 1866 315 0228  or visit

Environmental Review Tribunal Refuses Hearing on Montcalm Effluent Permit

The Environmental Review Tribunal denied the applications for leave to appeal by Northwatch, the Partnership for Public Lands and Laurent Robichaud, quashing hopes of a hearing to reconsider the permit issued by the Ministry of the Environment that will allow Falconbridge to use the Groundhog River as a mixing zone to dilute toxic mine effluent from its new Montcalm Mine, 70 km northwest of Timmins.

The Tribunal did not find that the Director was "unreasonable" in making his decision to approve the construction and operation of a mine water treatment system, and subsequently did not consider the question of whether the project would cause environmental harm.

The Tribunal did recognize that the applicants had raised serious grounds and had genuine concern for the project's potential impact on the environment, but held that the MOE Director had considered these concerns.

The Tribunal did note Northwatch's concern about the potential for acid generation and concluded that this issue warranted further study and care in implementing procedures to ensure that the remedial measures can adequately respond to potential problems.

EBR Posting of ERT Decision

Environmental Review Tribunal Decision

Northwatch Appeals Permit to Pollute Issued for Montcalm Mine

North Bay - Northwatch filed an appeal to Ontario's Environmental Review Tribunal in on August 28, seeking to overturn a controversial permit issued to mining giant Falconbridge for the operation of a new mine near Timmins.

Northwatch's appeal of the permit to release polluted mine effluent from the Montcalm Project, a copper nickel deposit under development 70 kilometres northwest of Timmins, focuses on the Ministry of the Environment having given Falconbridge permission to use the Groundhog River to dilute their mine effluent before meeting provincial water quality objectives.

"The solution to pollution is not dilution", said Brennain Lloyd, a spokesperson for Northwatch.

"Both Falconbridge and the Ministry of the Environment acknowledge that the effluent will be toxic. We're appalled that the company is unwilling to invest in building a cleaner mine, but even more shocking is that the Ministry of the Environment would give them a permit to build a dirty operation." Northwatch has filed an application for leave to appeal the mine permit. The legal process under Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights requires applicants to make a legal argument that the permit should not have been issued in order to have the permit reviewed by Ontario's Environmental Review Tribunal.

"We filed our application, along with expert statements that confirm the mine will pollute the Groundhog River and that other technology is available to make the mine effluent cleaner than what Falconbridge is proposing", commented Lloyd.

Five other applications have been filed, focussing on provincial parks policy and the impacts of the proposed mine on the Groundhog River Provincial Park, and on the sturgeon fishery that will be directly affected by the mine effluent. The mine design includes a 15 kilometre pipeline which will dump the contaminated mine effluent into the Groundhog River at Six Mile Rapids, a sturgeon spawning ground.


Falconbridge might be feeling fourth time lucky, following the the Ontario Ministry of the Environment's recent approval of their Plan #4 to dump the effluent from a new copper-nickel mine into a sturgeon spawning ground in a pristine stretch of the Groundhog River, and the given the difficulties citizen groups face in having appeals heard before the Environmental Review Tribunal.

Falconbridge's past efforts failed to gain approval for Plan #1 to dump the toxic effluent into the coldwater brook trout fishery in Montcalm Creek, or Plan # 2 to add massive doses of EDTA to slip the effluent through toxicity tests, or for Plan # 3 to build a ditch from the effluent through a newly designated provincial park which was created in large part to protect the Sturgeon fishery. Actually, the ditch was the centrepiece of  Plan #0, but it had been tossed out once already because of the park designation; that rejection inspired Falconbridge's plan to dump the effluent into a tiny coldwater creek.

The Ministry of the Environment approved Falconbridge's newest "alternative" of constructing a 15 km pipeline from the mine site to the river in mid-August. Environmental are challenging the approval, and hoping to force a hearing before Ontario's Environmental Review Tribunal to review the controversial decision.

Falconbridge purchased the Montcalm nickel-copper property from Outokumpu Mines for $14 million in 2001, and is now in the process of bringing the property into production. Falconbridge is projecting that the Montcalm Project will produce a total of 5 million tonnes over its 7 years of operations, at a rate of 750,000 tonnes of ore annually. According to the plan filed with the Ministry of Northern Develoment and Mines, Montcalm ore would be milled for the first year at the Strathcona operation in Sudbury, and then at the Kidd Metallurgical Division in Timmins. Nickel concentrate would be processed at the Sudbury smelter throughout the mine's operating life, contributing 8,000 tonnes annually to Falconbridge's Sudbury production.

In July 2002, Falconbridge applied to the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) for a permit to construct and operate a mine water treatment system, and to discharge the mine effluent to the Groundhog River via a wetland and Montcalm Creek (Plan # 1). Several months later, Falconbridge withdrew that proposal, and in January 2003 submitted a new application. The significant change in the proposal was the addition of two options for discharging mine effluent, with one option (Plan # 3) being to build an 8 km drainage ditch from the mine site to the Groundhog River and the other option (Plan # 4) is to build 15 kilometres of buried pipeline to discharge effluent directly into the Groundhog.

Falconbridge has maintained a consistency of purpose throughout review of the several different options for getting their mine effluent to the Groundhog River. All options have the same goal in mind: get the polluted mine water into the Groundhog River, where the large volume of water in the river will "mix" with the mine effluent, hence lowering the measurable levels of contamination  (seemingly, dilution is STILL the solution to pollution). Both the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment have acknowledged that the effluent will impact the receiving water in general and the sturgeon population in particular. MOE rationalizes this by placing the sturgeon population in a continental context and longer time frame, arguing that "it could take several years before we begin to see a local decline in the numbers of fish. The decline would be arrested when the project ceases operation assuming current exploitation levels and habitat conditions are maintained".

And all this is based on the best-case scenario that Falconbridge and their consultants have painted with respect to the acid generation and metal leaching potential of the property. Northwatch's initial concerns with the project were related to its potential to go-acid, given its close proximity to the notoriously contaminated Kam Kotia mine site, and what Northwatch is concerned has been an inadequate amount of sampling.  Falconbridge and the Company's consultants agree that the ore will be highly acid generating. However, they are predicting that the rock surrounding the ore will not be acid generating. The waste rock will be brought to surface in large volumes and any potential for it to "go acid" could have long term environmental impacts. Acid generation leaches metals and chemicals from the rock, and makes the mine effluent more polluting as well as potentially impacting the pH levels of area receiving water.

Northwatch and the Partnership for Public Lands are each seeking leave to appeal the controversial permit, as is a local resident concerned with impacts on the Sturgeon fishery and other applicants with more general concerns. Northwatch's application focuses on the water quality concerns and the Partnership's on park policies. Under Ontario law, applicants must make the case that "no reasonable person" would have approved the project in order to be granted a hearing. In the interim, Falconbridge is free to proceed with the mine development. A decision on the Application for Leave to Appeal is expected mid-October.

Northwatch News, Fall 2003
Northwatch Application for Leave to Appeal (pdf)

De Beers Backs Off on James Bay Diamond Mine

De beers Canada Corp. announced in late September that it is putting the brakes on its diamond mine project near Attawapiskat. The company says that it has put its multi-million-dollar Victor Project  on hold because of problems in obtaining the necessary federal and provincial permits. Without the appropriate permits, Debeers says that it  "will be unable to utilize the 2004 winter road."

Everything moving into and out of the exploration site either has to be flown or moved over ice roads created when the muskeg is frozen, resulting in a short work season dependent on winter conditions. Last fall, the company tried a rush job on the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, pushing for a sped up process to issue water taking permits on the basis of the short work season, which Northwatch reasoned should have anticipated, given its yearly occurrence.

De beers' permitting problems with its Ontario project are an echo of difficulties the Company appears to have created with regulators for the proposed Snap Lake mine in the Northwest Territories. NWT projects have also run into snags as Debeers balks at commitments to direct 10% of its production towards NWT's fledgling diamond polishing industry.

Northwatch News, Fall 2003

Arsenic Concerns in Falconbridge

The Falconbridge Citizens' Committee announced at a community meeting in early September that Falconbridge Ltd. has agreed to pay for urine and other health tests, as well as for soil tests of any properties not yet tested.

The committee reported also having discussed with Falconbridge Ltd. any economic fallout from the news that the soil in the town has the highest arsenic levels  in Sudbury area.  A preliniary estimate of how much it would cost for Falconbridge Ltd. to "buy out" local homes places the price tag etween $17 and $20 million.

The Falconbridge Citizens' Committee was struck  in response to Falconbridge residents' concerns after early data from the Sudbury Soils Study revealed that soil in Falconbridge was five times higher than the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care's guideline for arsenic. The Sudbury and District Health Unit went door-to-door in May, warning residents about the high level of arsenic in area soils.

Northwatch News, Fall 2003

Global Protest to get INCO to "Clean Up its Act"

A group of Sudbury citizens participated in a global protest against Inco Ltd. in an attempt to get the mining company to "clean up its act", holding a candle light vigil at the old front gates of the Copper Cliff facility on October 7th. Protests also took place in Indonesia, New Caledonia, Guatemala, St.John's, Nfld and in Port Colborne where residents say Inco's presence  has negatively impacted their health.

"We're not there to scream and shout," said Cathy Mulroy, a Raging Granny and 30-year Inco employee. She wants Inco to take more responsibility and do more regreening of the landscape and conduct more health studies. "Maybe we should be looking at how much stuff is really coming out of the stack and how much harm it's really doing," said Mulroy.

"And if it takes off the paint on your car, what's it really doing to people's lungs."

Last year, Mulroy said she had her car repainted because of Inco fallout.

"Let's find out if there are cancer-causing agents in the earth," she said, referring to the fallout from the stack which builds up in soil. Studies are underway in Sudbury to determine levels of contamination.

The Sudbury vigil was part of the first annual The World Unites Against Inco worldwide day of protest.

Northwatch News, Fall 2003

MNR Proposes Park Giveaway to Permit
Falconbridge's Mine Effluent Ditch Through Groundhog River Waterway Park

On April 25th the Ministry of Natural Resources posted notice on the Environmental Bill of Rights electronic registry that it is considering allowing Falconbridge Limited to slice through the Groundhog River Waterway  Park with a mine effluent ditch. The ditch will allow Falconbridge to dump toxic mine effluent from their (proposed) Montcalm copper-nickel mine into the Groundhog River. Falconbridge intends to mix the mine effluent with the Groundhog River in order to meet Provincial Water Quality Objectives.

According to MNR's posting on the EBR, the Ministry is considering an amendment to the 1999 Ontario Living Legacy's Land Use Strategy boundary of the recommended Groundhog River Provincial Park (P1569) by removing approximately 2 hectares from one location along the river. The 2hectares will consist of a corridor between the Montcalm mine site and the Groundhog River, creating an access through the waterway park for Falconbridge's mine effluent ditch.

The MNR posting states that the "area removed will be re-designated to Crown Land and a disposition, in the form of an easement will be issued to Falconbridge Limited. The disposition is required in order to permit a drainage corridor which would convey treated mine water from Falconbridge Limited's Montcalm Nickel Mine to the Groundhog River....Falconbridge has proposed as an alternative discharging the treated mine water via a pipeline through their existing Claim at Six Mile Rapids to the Groundhog River, which is adjacent to a known sturgeon spawning site. This option does not require an amendment to Ontario's Living Legacy Land Use Strategy."

Approximately 22 hectares would be added to the park in "exchange" for the 2 ha withdrawal. The proposed addition is currently being held by Falconbridge Limited as a Mining Claim. This parcel of land is located along the ‘Six Mile Rapids' portion of the Groundhog River, which is considered ideal sturgeon spawning habitat.

In plainer language: Falconbridge is proposing to use the 2 hectares as a corridor to construct a  ditch from the mine site to the Groundhog River. If they're not allowed to dig the ditch through the park, then they will build a pipeline and dump the effluent further upstream - adjacent to the sturgeon spawning site - taking advantage of a mineral claim which they have recently bought from another company which predated the park boundaries being set.

The deadline for comments was May 25th, 2003. Northwatch's comments objected to the proposed boundary amendment, and repeated comments on effluent quality made on the application for a certificate of approval for sewage works several months earlier. Northwatch's view is that the Groundhog should not be used as a mixing zone, and that Falconbridge  should redesign their effluent treatment system to produce a higher quality effluent which would meet provincial water quality objectives prior to discharge from the mine property.

Northwatch News Spring / Summer 2003
Northwatch Comments on Proposed Boundary Change

View EBR Posting

Posting on the Ministry of Natural Resources Crown Land Use Atlas

Read Previous Northwatch Postings on the Montcalm Mine Project

Porcupine Joint Venture Mine Expansion Subject of Federal EA

Almost a year after its announcement by Placer Dome and Kinross, the Porcupine Joint Venture has announced its second set of layoffs, but says it is still moving ahead with plans for a massive expansion of an open pit mining operation, by July 2005.

The joint venture is a 51% to 49% partnership between Placer Dome and Kinross. Placer Dome contributed its Dome mine and mill and Kinross contributed the operating Hoyle Pond Mine and Bell Creek Mill and the closed Pamour and Nighthawk Mines, and exploration properties..

As part of the merger, Kinross's non- unionized Bell Creek Mill was closed. PJV's long term plan is to reduce the workforce from 700 to 500 by late 2003.

A primary focus of the company at this point is the Pamour Mine Expansion Project. The project will include a massive expansion of the main pit at the closed Pamour Mine, the relocation of Highway 101 to accommodate the pit expansion,  the dewatering a quarter of Three Nations Lake, and redirecting of Three Nations Creek. Ore will be trucked to the Dome Mill for processing.

Project length has recently been re- estimated from 12 years to 8 years.

The project will be the subject of a Comprehensive Study under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and public consultation will be required. The environmental evaluation must include a study of the cumulative environmental effects likely to result from the project in combination with other activities in the area. Some studies indicate elevated levels of several mine- related contaminants in both the water and sediments of area lakes, rivers and creeks.

Porcupine Joint Venture has said they plan to hold an open house on July 29.

Northwatch News Spring / Summer 2003

Environment Canada Hosts Diamond Mine Workshop

Despite the rapid spread of diamond mining and related exploration activity in Canada over the last several years, Environment Canada is only now beginning to consider what its role is as a regulator of this activity might be.

The only operating mines in Canada are in the Northwest Territories, where territorial licensing boards have the lead role in setting the environmental conditions for a mine's operation. However, there is considerable exploration activity south of the 60th parallel, particularly in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec. Three of Canada's most concentrated areas of diamond exploration are in Ontario, centred around Wawa, the James Bay lowlands around Attawapiskat, and in Timiskaming District, near the Quebec border.

In Fall 2002, Environment Canada contracted a consultant to undertake an "Environmental Review of the Diamond Mining Sector" and then hosted a workshop in early June, and is inviting comment on the consultant's paper by mid-July. Environment Canada will then consider their "regulatory options".

Northwatch News Spring / Summer 2003

Debeers Pushes  Ahead with Diamond Development in James Bay Lowlands

The world's largest diamond company is moving from the initial exploration to feasibility stages for its Victor Diamond Mine Project, in the James Bay lowlands. De Beers Canada Exploration Inc. or its subsidiaries have been working the property for several years, and now say they are less than a year away from deciding whether the project will move ahead to a full diamond mine. The project is located approximately 90 kilometres west of the First Nation community of Attawapiskat

The Victor Project has identified three diamond bearing kimberlite pipes, with two of them meeting close to the surface. The third and most recently discovered lobe is still being defined. Kimberlite pipes are diamond bearing rock formations.

While no environmental assessment has yet been done - or even started - Debeers has for some time been operating an 80 person exploration camp, a winter road, and a winter runway. They have also received several provincial approvals, albeit in a piecemeal fashion, which allow them to discharge sewage, operate industrial scale electric power generators, pump up massive amounts of saline groundwater and release it to freshwater rivers and wetlands, and conduct trenching, stripping of soil and vegetation, and diamond drilling.

Last November, the Company's consultants applied, on Debeers behalf, for an additional permit for industrial sewage to allow large volumes of groundwater from a number of pump tests to be discharged to the Nayshkootayaow River. There were a number of disquieting details related to the application - no new water taking permits were posted on the public registry, despite their being required to conduct the proposed pump tests; disparities between proposed pump test schedules - but even more disquieting was the minimal examination done of the environmental effects of discharging large amounts of salt water (groundwater is saline) into the Nayshkoot-ayaow River, which is a freshwater river system, or how this discharge may affect the walleye, northern pike, whitefish, cisco, sturgeon, brook trout and other species which live in the river or depend upon it for food and water.

There was also no discussion of the effect of discharging water from shorter duration tests into the area muskeg. The consultants do acknowledges that the groundwater will be saline and that groundwater discharge had a noticeable short term adverse effect on the water quality of the South Granny Creek during the previous year's test, but provide no evaluation or discussion of the effect that the discharge of this large volume of saline water will have on the wet fens and bogs that comprise the muskeg, or of the potential for disruption of the ecological function of these sensitive northern ecosystems. Reportedly, Northwatch is on the "cc" list of January correspondence from the consultants to the Ministry of the Environment responding Northwatch's concerns with the permit application, but a copy has not yet been received by Northwatch.

Debeers has been in on-again, off-again (currently on-again) discussions with Attawapiskat First Nation, and declare themselves to be committed to negotiating a "Participation Agreement", which Debeers says "will determine the ways in which the mine will contribute to the social, economic and cultural well being of the Attawapiskat First Nation". The Company's track record does not appear to be rosy, however. Last fall, Debeers canceled their winter program over differences between the Company and Attawapiskat First Nation on the scope and speed of the Memorandum of Agreement being developed between the First Nation and Debeers. When talks broke off, Debeers carried the differences to the media in lengthy news releases detailing their own positions.

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has determined that a review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act will be necessary, but had not yet determined the scope or type of review that will be undertaken, or initiated any public involvement in the review process. One of the key principles of federal environmental assessment is that the review begin early in a project's develolpment, before any irrevocable decisions are made. There is a commitment in the federal EA act to public participation, including in the earliest stages.

February 2003

Falconbridge Ditches Mine Effluent - they're going for the Groundhog!

Falconbridge Limited has withdrawn its controversial proposal to discharge effluent from its proposed mine in Montcalm Township, northwest of Timmins, into a wetland that discharges into Montcalm Creek, and are opting for   something even more controversial - releaseing effluent directly into the Groundhog River.

Falconbridge had initially proposed an 8 kilometre ditch from the mine site to the Groundhog River, including through a newly created waterway park. When the Ministry of Natural Resources objected on the basis of a mine effluent ditch being part of a mining activity, and so not permitted within a waterway park, Falconbridge proposed, as an alternative, to build a 3 kilometre ditch to direct the effluent into a wetland which then discharges into the Montcalm Creek.

In January 2003, Falconbridge withdrew that proposal, saying that tight project timelines did not allow them to do the investigations and field work that the Ministry of the Environment was requiring to satisfy that Ministry's concerns about possible impacts on the wetland and Creek.

Falconbridge is now floating two options. A new option is to build a 12 to 15 kilometre buried pipeline from the effluent pond to discharge directly into the Groundhog River, south of the original ditch location, taking advantage of a recently acquired mining claim to thwart the provincial park restrictions. Falconbridge has also returned to its original (and persistently preferred) option of constructing that 8 km ditch directly into the Groundhog River.

Once there, Falconbridge rationalizes that the large volume of water in the Groundhog River will provide enough dilution to the effluent to meet Provincial Water Quality Objectives.

February 2003
 See posting in "What's New" for latest update on Falconbridge's Montcalm Project

Falconbridge Seeks Permit for Montcalm Project - concerns with potential for acid run-off

Falconbridge Limited is pushing ahead with a new mine development 70 kilometres northwest of Timmins. Falconbridge purchased the Montcalm nickel-copper property from Outokumpu Mines for $14 million in 2001, and is now in the process of bringing the property into production. Falconbridge is projecting that the Montcalm Project will produce a total of 5 million tonnes over its 7 years of operations, at a rate of 750,000 tonnes of ore annually. According to the plan filed with the Ministry of Northern Develoment and Mines, Montcalm ore would be milled for the first year at the Strathcona operation in Subury, and then at the Kidd Metallurgical Division in Timmins. Nickel concentrate would be processed at the Sudbury smelter throughout the mine's operating life, contributing 8,000 tonnes annually to Falconbridge's Sudbury nickel production.

In July 2002, Falconbridge applied to the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) for a permit to construct and operate a mine water treatment system. The system would treat groundwater from mine and dewatering operations, as well as surface runoff associated with potentially acid-generating waste rock.

Northwatch has expressed a number of concerns about the project, and toured the mine property with the Falconbridge environmental personnel.  The primary concern relates to the acid generating potential of the ore and surrounding rock. While Falconbridge and the Company's consultants agree that the ore will be acid generating, they are predicting that the rock surrounding the ore will not be acid generating. This waste rock will be brought to surface in large volumes, and while Falconbridge's consultants have concluded that the majority of the waste rock will consist of low-sulphide, non- acid generating material, any potential for it to "go acid" could have long term environmental impacts. Northwatch is not yet confident that enough assessment work has been done, and is urging the MOE to require a fuller evaluation and better contingency planning.

A second concern is with the proposal for discharge of the mine effluent. Initially, Falconbridge proposed to construct an 8 kilometre ditch from the mine site to the Groundhog River, including through the newly created waterway park. The Ministry of Natural Resources objected to this proposal on the basis of a mine effluent ditch being part of a mining activity, and so not permitted within a waterway park. The alternative proposal, and the option described in the Company's application for a permit from the Ministry of the Environment, includes a 3 kilometre ditch which would discharge the effluent into a wetland, which then discharges into Montcalm Creek. Falconbridge's consultants predict that water quality would not consistently meet provincial water quality objectives in the Montcalm Creek, which is a coldwater fishery. Questions have also been raised - including by Falconbridge - about whether using the wetland as part of the "treatment system" would improve or actually worsen water quality.

Northwatch News - Fall 2002

Northcott Gold Skirts Permit Requirements

Northcott Gold Inc. has submitted an amendment to their closure plan the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, for changes to the exploration project, a change of the Company name effective July 10 2002, a change in the project schedule, changes to the mine dewatering approach, and an increase in financial assurance.
The work may have been done in advance of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines receiving the proposed amendment to the closure plan, and certainly was done before notice was posted on the EBR electronic registry. The proposal was loaded on the registry on September 19th, 2002, whereas the Company announced on June 4, 2002 that it had signed an agreement with Dumas Contracting Ltd. for the exploration work, and anticipated that the work would be completed by August 3rd, 2002. It also appears that the exploration work may have been done without all of the necessary permits. For example, the exploration work is described as including dewatering of both the underground workings and the are below the proposed open pit, but no applications for Permits to Take Water have been posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights electronic registry. The permits are required for mine dewatering.

The Company has recently entered into a series of subscription and debt settlement agreements and non-brokered share offerings, with share offerings ranging between $0.30 and $0.50. The Company has stated that it will use the proceeds from the private placement to continue with the exploration and development of its mineral properties and for general working capital purposes.

Northwatch News - Fall 2002

The Kam Kotia Mine Disaster - Ontario's most notorious mine waste problem
(link to story in Highgrader Magazine)

Province announces $5 million in new funding to continue clean-up program at KamKotia

Timmins Local News - 1/16/2003 - The province has committed almost $5 million in funding to continue the clean up of several Timmins area abandoned mines.  Timmins Daily Press - full story

Eves Government Invests $10 Million In Abandoned Mines Rehabilitation

TIMMINS — January 15, 2003  —  A $10 million investment by the Ernie Eves government will continue to rehabilitate abandoned mines in the province, help protect and preserve Ontario’s natural resources heritage and open the way for new economic development opportunities, Minister of Northern Development and Mines Jim Wilson announced today on site at the former Kam Kotia mine near Timmins. MNDM News Release

The Boreal Below: Mining Issues and Activities in Canada's Boreal Forest Region

An Introduction to the Boreal as a Mining Region

Canada's boreal is an immense northern forest "draped like a green scarf across the shoulders of North America". It comprises 77% of Canada's forest land, stretching in a multi-hued green band from the Yukon Territory to southeast Newfoundland.

The boreal is, in the romantic imagination of North Americans, the last and everlasting wilderness. While the wilderness qualities of the boreal may, tragically, prove to be less than everlasting, the legacy of the mining activities which rob the great northern forest of its wildness will be permanent.

So what is so "boreal" about mining in Canada? Three factors stand out:

Canada's boreal forest builds soil, filters water, captures carbon and produces oxygen. While difficult to monetize the value of such life-giving functions, these life-support services have been quantified as nearly $70 billion worth of life-support services for Canadians annually.

Mining, forestry and hydroelectric development are the most significant industrial activities in the boreal.  These activities provide infrastructure in remote areas and interact with each other to "open up" a region.  The last 40 years have seen rapid, poorly controlled, and poorly planned development in the boreal, as resources have become depleted in other regions and transportation has improved. The cumulative effects of this development appear to have not been effectively considered at any point in this development "rush", nor has the its ecological context. The development is taking place in Canada's least conserved landscape; one which both the country's leading scientists and Senate subcommittees have identified as being at risk of being lost in the next half-century, unless  industrial development is drastically curtailed.

There exists an unholy marriage between the unique impacts of mining and the unique qualities of the boreal forest region. The acid laden mine effluent and acid laced air discharges of the mining industry overlay the thin and naturally acidic soils of the boreal to stress these forest ecosystems perhaps beyond recovery. The slow growing and slow healing taiga is brutalized by earth-stripping activities of the diamond and mineral exploration industry, where crews move tens of thousands of the thin boreal soils each day in the search for pretty gems.

To evaluate the impacts of mining activity in Canada's boreal forest region, they need to be viewed in the context of the natural characteristics and function of the boreal forest.

Full Report Available On-line (pdf)

(Report compiled by Northwatch et al for MiningWatch Canada, 2001)

UnderMining Superior: A Report on Mining Activities and Impacts in the Lake Superior Basin

The Lake Superior basin  is rich in minerals, and  mining has played a key  role in its settlement over  the last century. On the  Ontario side of the basin,  there are currently 5 gold mines and one palladium mine in production. Hundreds of abandoned mines scattered throughout the area testify to historical production of a wide range of commodities.  Exploration remains very attractive in the basin, primarily for gold, palladium group metals, and - increasingly - for diamonds.

Mining has both benefits and costs.  Communities like Marathon, situated near the Hemlo gold mines, experience major economic benefits from the mines while they are in operation, including employment and local spending. But mines must inevitably close, either when reserves are exhausted or markets fall.  It is predicted that the Hemlo mines will all shut down within the next 12 years.

The active mines on Canada's Superior coast are among the country's largest, including the rich gold mines of the Hemlo camp and the recently expanded palladium mine at Lac des Iles, north of Thunder Bay.

Mining is a fascinating and influential component of northern Ontario's past, present and future.  The industry is ever changing.  It is now estimated that 3.4 employees are required to generate $1 million of metals production.  As mechanization in mining increases, so too does the scale of its operations and its impacts.

This report examines mining in the context of environmental impacts to air, land and water, and considers community transition, First Nations issues, and worker health and safety underground.  Many of the difficult issues and impacts identified in this report on mining in the Lake Superior basin are also relevant in other jurisdictions globally. This report was created to provide information on mining issues and impacts in the Lake Superior basin in the belief that increased public understanding of mining issues will lead to increased public oversight, which in turn will move mining in the direction of maximizing benefits and minimizing costs, particularly environmental and social.

Northwatch Hits the Mining Trail with the Lake Superior Mines and Metals Monitoring Project

In early 2000, Northwatch began developing an overview and inventory of mining activities and their impacts in the Lake Superior basin, as the first in what we hope will be a series, covering each of the major water sheds in northeastern Ontario. The Superior Mining Project (which identified a number of inferior mining practices!) included research about operating, abandoned and proposed mines on the Canadian side of the Lake Superior basin. The research was done through many visits to the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines offices and reading room, too many hours scanning industry data bases, web sites and news releases, and reviews of compliance data and reports of pollution releases from the federal and provincial government.
Finally, in June 2001, the Northwatch team hit the road, travelling up and down the Superior coast, visiting 16 mine sites, 3 First Nations, and a diamond laboratory, meeting with 1 municipal reeve, 1 trade union staff representative, 6 mining companies, and several Ministry of the Environment officials, and holding 2 community roundtables.

A sixteen page tabloid is a product of that tour, as well as the many hours of research before and since. A pdf version of the UnderMining Superior tabloid is available on line. For paper copies of this publication or for more information about Northwatch, contact us at Box 282, North Bay, Ontario, P1B 8H2, tel 705 497 0373 or

Mining and the Environment: A Backgrounder on Public Concerns

Mining and metals are a part of daily life. The benefits of mining in our metal-dependant society are with us in almost every activity - transportation, television, medicine, cosmetics, the list might be endless.

But so too are the impacts of mining and metal processing constantly with us, and being metal consumers does not relieve of us of the responsibility to examine mining and metal use. Rather the reverse - as metal consumers we are called upon to understand the full chain of impacts that are set in motion by our metal consumption, to examine where those impacts can be minimized or avoided, to place our use of metals in the context of environmental health, and to demand full stewardship of metals and metal products.

Throughout the mining regions around the world, mining has left a dismal legacy of hazardous sites and contaminated ground and surface water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that mining has polluted over 180,000 acres of lakes in the United States, and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines has estimated that there are six thousand abandoned mine sites in Ontario alone. The Canadian mining industry generates one million tonnes of waste rock and 950,000 tonnes of tailings per day, totalling 650 million tonnes of waste per year.

Ontario continues to have the largest metal mining sector of all the provinces in Canada, and accounts for one-third of national mineral production, with 41 metal mines in operation and another 16 in stages of advanced exploration. One of every four mines either failed toxicity tests or had a temporary exemption from water quality regulations for the winter of 1997 and the spring/summer of 1998.

The Mining Sequence

Mineral extraction moves on a continuum of impact, from initial exploration through invasive exploitation to throwaway consumer products. From beginning to end - from abandoned mine sites to overflowing landfills - metal extraction, production and consumption poses threats and challenges to the natural world and the human communities who depend upon both the metals they use and the environment in which they live.

In the earliest phases - prospecting and exploration - impacts may be less severe, but they are also less regulated, and generally lack any requirement for rehabilitation of the site. And while impacts may be less severe, the site disturbance can also be extreme, with complete removal of the vegetation and so total loss of ecological function not uncommon.

Public concerns, values and other land uses often conflict with these activities. Trap lines, ski trails, sensitive natural areas such as old growth forests or special wildlife habitat - all are vulnerable to the paramount "rights" of mineral exploration. And the dividing line between prospecting, exploration and an operating mine is a faint one, with more advanced exploration including sinking of mine shafts and actual ore production, but still lacking the public scrutiny and approval process that even the most limited timbering operations on public land would require. The mining process requires massive removal of soil and rock to retrieve the valued ore - a tonne of copper produces 99 tonnes of waste rock; a typical wedding ring required 3 tonnes of ore to be processed. The result is huge amounts of waste rock, which often contain toxic heavy metals and acid-generating materials. The ore goes through a number of processes on its way from mine to market, the first of which is a primary separation of the desired mineral from the other constituents of the rock - a process which produces large quantities of contaminated water and huge amounts of tailings, which are the "left-overs" of the separation process. Perhaps the greatest problems created by the mining process is acid mine drainage. Waste rock and tailings are exposed to oxygen and water, and generate acidic water which then frees up heavy metals. This effluent contaminates surface and ground water and area streams, rivers and lakes.

The last stage in the "mining sequence" is extremely critical, in terms of environmental damages. Metals occurring in compounds such as sulphide or oxide minerals, like copper or nickel, are isolated in their metallic state by smelting, where the sulphur is turned into the gas sulphur dioxide, which mixes with precipitation to become acid rain. In recent years, the emission levels of metal smelters have been substantially reduced, but cost and profit still draw the line on the toxic side of zero discharge.

A Public Role

For most members of the public living in mining communities, the social barriers to speaking out or questioning mine operations may be the greatest impediment to citizen action and subsequent response from government and industry.

Public participation in mining regulation has historically been extremely limited, and the mining industry is accustomed to operating with little public scrutiny and with full access to public lands, and full opportunity to exploit public resources. While initiatives over the last several years, such as the Whitehorse Mining Initiative, have brought government, industry, labour and First Nations and the environmental community together to develop common goals and strategies to make mining more environmentally responsible, implementation is slow and legislation in some jurisdictions, such as Ontario, is being weakened rather than strengthened.

From a citizen's perspective, the door is open and at the same time closed to public involvement in monitoring and affecting both decisions and operations in the mineral sector. Those with internet access can monitor government registries and on occasion see permits posted before they are granted for water-taking, waste disposal, or mine development or closure. But this kind of opportunity for public involvement is limited by the quality and timeliness of the posting, as well as by the citizens' access to not only the electronic registry and by their ability to followup with industry or government staff during working hours, and by the location and accessibility of reports and written proposals, as well as by limits on the individual's technical expertise. Only in isolated cases are there advisory committees in place which provide the public a recognized role in ongoing monitoring of the mine's development, operation or closure.

Why are mining and mineral exploration - and the related environmental and social impacts - not brought under public control, and decisions about mineral development brought into the realm of public influence? Just as landfills, highway expansions and pulp mill emissions are the subject of public examination, mining activities could - and should - be regulated in an open and transparent fashion, with a high standard of care demanded for the lands and waters that mining activities effect. That would mean zero discharge of toxic effluent, no net loss of habitat, and rehabilitation of mine sites. And the "right to mine" claimed by industry and granted by government for the last century must be reconsidered within a reasonable array of rights - rights to a healthy environment, rights of the natural environment, and rights to clean air, water and land.

November 2000

Back to Main Page