Abandoned Mines Liability Tops $1 Billion: Watchdog Presents Action Plan to Federal Ministers


On January 11, MiningWatch Canada presented a four point plan for dealing with Canada's abandoned mines crisis to the federal government. Clean-up of sites under federal jurisdiction alone will cost more than $1 billion, but this is the only way to protect people's health, the environment, and local economies from further damage.

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 best to do this
  • Establishment of a funding mechanism to recover costs from industry to pay for cleaning up the sites

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 clean-up — are a key source of pollution in Canada. There are at least 10,000 of these "toxic orphans" leaching often-acidic mixtures of cyanide, lead, cadmium, mercury and radioactive wastes. 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.

Every year, mining companies create thousands of tons of waste rock and tailings for every ton of ore. Usually the tailings have been treated with toxic chemicals. Some of them are radioactive. Sulphur-bearing rock, broken up and exposed to air and water, creates "acid mine drainage," which then leaches heavy metals into rivers, aquifers and soil.

In the past few if any guarantees were taken to ensure that mining companies cleaned up their mess. Now, although reclamation securities or bonds are sometimes required, they are often inadequate to cover the costs of clean-up. At the Mt. Nansen Mine in the Yukon, the security was only $225,000, but the costs of clean-up will be $6 million with an annual cost for maintaining the site of $2 million — in perpetuity. In other cases, like the Giant and Faro Mines in the NWT and Yukon respectively, bankruptcies have left the federal government holding the bag for hundreds of millions in clean-up costs.

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For more information, contact Joan Kuyek, National Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada
tel. (613) 569-3439