Friday, May 26, 2006

Mining Regulation Change Threatens Ecosystems & Fisheries Act

If proposed amendments to the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (MMER) are not retracted then any fresh water body in the province or the country could be polluted with toxic waste from mining. In other words, "deleterious substances" will be allowed to pollute fish-bearing waters which is contrary to Section 36 of the Fisheries Act. At the risk of over-using the word precedent, this proposed change, which is not yet law, would set a precedent for this practice to be more easily used at ANY minesite in Canada.

If ponds and fish habitats multiplied like the seal population there would be less reason for concern. However, what mining companies send into tailings ponds is not vitamin D. To use the iceberg analogy, often what we see and hear looks good on the surface but much of the potential harm lies under water, literally. Some dark consequences of using ponds for tailings are immediate and obvious, while other repercussions may be long term, and less apparent. Immediately, fish and their habitats can be destroyed, later, the food chain may be gradually contaminated. Who knows what percentage of health problems can be attributed to cumulative toxic build up in our bodies already? It has only been in the last couple of years that the public is kindly being saturated with helpful information on trans fats in foods. I think that many food companies thought that what we don't know, won't hurt them. Trans fat has been linked to 100's of thousands of deaths due to heart disease. Whether it's food or the environment, preventative measures seem like the best way to lessen the risk of health & environment problems.

Members of ENGO (Environmental Non-governmental Organizations) strongly oppose the Schedule 2 amendment. Here's what the proposed Schedule 2 Amendments will do:

- include a new definition of "tailings impoundment areas" (tailings are the valueless minerals & mining waste materials)
- will list two new water bodies in Central Newfoundland onto Schedule 2
- and will allow "new" mines to use natural water bodies - including fish-bearing water bodies - for the purpose of depositing tailings.

The new provisions will also require a company to prepare fish habitat compensation plans to support the DFO principle of "no net loss". That compensation would be most likely for some other area considered to be environmentally damaged.

Experts like Dr. Joseph Rasmussen, Dr. John Gibson, Dr. Catherine Coumans, agree with DFO that harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat will occur as a result of using fish-bearing water bodies as a tailings impoundment area.

From my communications with Mining Watch, ENGO and Mr. Chad Griffiths it appears that none of Aur Resources compensation plans, including those approved by DFO, are anywhere near scientifically adequate to show that "no net loss" of fish habitat will be achieved by the plans. As I mentioned in a previous blog, there does not apppear to be any evidence of serious consideration of alternative means to deal with mine effluents.

What are the environmental risks of zinc-copper tailings in ponds?

  • Loss of Habitat: due to acidic drainage that will occur as a result of dumping millions of tonnes of pyrite-rich mine wastes.
  • Potential degradation of riverine quality: resulting from hydrological impacts, combined with the toxic seepage into aquifers and surface waters of the Exploits Rever watershed.
  • Long term future of tailings ponds, environmental risks and liability issues. Acid-generating wastes must be kept underwater in order to minimize the rate of oxidation by Thiobacillus bacteria... the water levels in the tailings ponds must be maintained in perpetuity. This raises the question as to who is going to pay the costs of maintaining the dams that regulate these water levels.

    What wildlife is sustained at Trout Pond?
    Click this link for a detailed description of the aquatic and wildlife diversity in the Duck Pond area.

    Personally I suspect that company economics is the reason why no serious consideration went into finding alternate tailings impoundment methods. If that is the case, then would it be more economical for Aur Resources to post a financial bond to maintain a freshwater pond for decades to come, as opposed to building a safer facility now? A report of the first man-made sub-aqueous tailings disposal at Louvicourt Mine was released in 2005. It stated that it was a success. Aur Resources was applauded in 1995 for its support of this innovation. In my humble opinion it seems like they could save themselves alot of financial and ethical grief by going with a more environmentally safe tailings management method.

    One could also be suspicious that DFO and/or Environment Canada has been facilitating industrial development. Dr. Catherine Coumans wrote a background and history of the MMER in 2005. It appears that the MMER was originally protective of Section 36 of the Fisheries Act. However, the 2004 proposed amendments were seemingly rushed along. Environment Canada announced that the MMER review process would be sped up, because Aur Resources wanted to start a new copper lead zinc mine called the Duck Pond Project, using Trout Pond as a tailings dump as early as the summer of 2006.

    Newfoundland & Labrador and Canada is dotted with ponds, lakes, and wetlands that may be conveniently close to new mining projects. Not only would a pleasant clean ecosystem be tarnished, but people's freedom now and in the future would be more restricted. It would mean less places where you could drink from, fish from, swim in, and enjoy wildlifes sights and sounds. But as Dr. John Gibson put it on CBCs Radio Noon show last week, how can you compensate for an evolving unique species once they're gone, or replicate their specific habitat? Efforts should be continued to plan a safe and non-polluting solution to the tailings impoundment controversy. That would be a good precedent. If a mining company dumped tailings in a pond near me, I'd be poisoned!
  • 4 comments:

    NL-ExPatriate said...

    I would have thought that there are lots of holes in the ground in Bucans from past mining where tailings could safely be disposed of.

    Disposing of them is this kind of manner would also allow retrieval later on if technology facilitates further processing from the lower grade tailings.

    Some sort of cable car or slurry pipe to the old mine site might work cost effectively?

    Dam dump it along the side of the road t okeep the vegetation down spread over several thousand kilometers would make it less concentrated hence less overall damage?

    Spread it onto the old railroad bed as ballast it is right there lord knows the roal road bed is starting to deteriorate.

    Any chance of you writing an open letter I could sign and send of to the powers that be?

    Christ put it in the road separating Howley and bucans to join the two. Nahh bad idea all water there remaining 3 km separating. I guess thats why it wasn't inished the little brook stopped them.

    kodak said...

    Great ideas for using tailings. I think it could also be an effective way to get rid of lawn weeds - liquid or spreadable manure-type tailings.

    I have personally sent a letter to the NL Env. minister and will prepare an open letter. Will let you know when it's ready.

    NL-ExPatriate said...

    The Proincial Gov are doing consultations right now on Sustainable development. I wasn't sure what it was all about at first but it is pertaining to exactly this type of thing.

    http://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2006/env/0519n02.htm
    http://www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/
    http://www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/publ/susdevdoc.pdf

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