Contamination from abandoned mines gets a higher profile

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

On January 11th, MiningWatch Canada presented a plan for dealing with Canada's abandoned mines crisis to the eight members of cabinet most responsible for finding solutions to this issue. The plan calls for:

  • A national inventory of sites for which the federal government carries responsibility, and incentives for the provinces to create compatible databases on sites under their jurisdiction
  • Physical and chemical assessments of all abandoned mines to verify hazards
  • Provision for resources to clean up the worst sites first with a plan to establish the priorities and more research dollars to figure out how to do this best
  • Establishment of a funding mechanism to recover costs from industry to pay for cleaning up the sites

Clean-up of the sites under federal jurisdiction alone will cost much more than $1 billion. Abandoned or orphaned mines — closed mines for which the owner cannot be found, or for which the owner is unwilling or financially unable to carry out cleanup — are a key source of pollution in Canada. There are at least 10,000 of these "toxic orphans" leaching various acidic mixtures of cyanide, lead, cadmium, mercury and radio-active wastes into the land and waters around them. Some sites also have physical dangers like open shafts and empty buildings.

Abandoned mines are a serious and immediate danger to human health and the environment. They are already costing taxpayers millions of dollars in clean-up, cancers, lost fishery and farm income, and they stand to cost billions more.

In the proposal we ask the government to allocate funds toward work on these recommendations in the 2000 federal budget as part of the contaminated sites initiative. We have asked different ministers for support based on their particular area of responsibility:

  • Environment — to take the lead on the initiative.
  • Indian Affairs and Northern Development — to improve their inventory of northern sites, lands of aboriginal use or interest that are being affected by orphaned mine sites and to exercise properly their fiduciary responsibility for these sites.
  • Fisheries — to support the initiative especially as it is related to Section 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act
  • Human Resources Development — to undertake a study of the employment creation potential of community-based monitoring and remediation strategies, and research and development of new technologies for mine reclamation.
  • Health — to undertake a study of the health costs for Canadians of orphaned and abandoned mine sites, and to provide funds for site specific monitoring of the health of people down-stream from contaminated mine sites.
  • Natural Resources Canada — to support the initiative, provide the data necessary for a thorough inventory of federal sites, and to undertake the research necessary for the development of technologies to reclaim sites in ways that make "perpetual care" unnecessary.
  • Finance — to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken to recover the costs of reclamation and identification of sites from the mining industry.
  • Treasury Board — to ensure that the liabilities associated with federal sites are reflected in the public accounts in line with the 1995 report of the Auditor General.