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News Release

Environment Canada Flings Door Wide Open to Toxic Dumping in Canada’s Lakes

Ottawa - On October 18, 2006, two lakes in Newfoundland that are habitat to trout, Atlantic salmon, otter, and other species, received a death sentence as the newly amended Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (MMER) went into law.

In a precedent-setting move, Environment Canada amended the MMER, a regulation under the Fisheries Act, to allow Aur Resources to dump toxic waste from its copper-zinc-gold mine into Trout Pond and a nearby unnamed lake. Both these lakes are in Newfoundland's largest watershed, the Exploits River system--a system that has had millions of taxpayer dollars pumped into it for fish habitat restoration.

This legalised destruction of fish-bearing lakes opens the door to the destruction of other fish-bearing water bodies all across Canada. Mining companies have only to ask the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Environment Canada for permission, and bingo! They've got it.

Environment Canada confirms that at least nine other mine projects in British Columbia, Nunavut, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories will be seeking similar amendments so they can use lakes as waste dump sites for their mines (see table below).

In response to a request by Aur Resources, Environment Canada added the two lakes to Schedule 2 of the MMER. Water bodies listed on Schedule 2 are thereby re-defined as tailings impoundment areas and are no longer considered to be lakes, and, therefore, are no longer protected under the Fisheries Act.

"Government says the Fisheries Act and the MMER are intended to protect fish-bearing waters from destruction by mine tailings--certainly the public expects this--but by this regulatory sleight of hand, fish-bearing lakes across Canada are no longer protected from destruction by toxic mine waste," says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada, who participated in Environment Canada's regulatory revision process.

Maggie Paquet, a biologist who also participated in the revision process, says Environment Canada seems to have ignored its obligation to review alternative options for tailings management. "We reviewed all the public documents made available to us and could find no evidence that Environment Canada provided any advice to Aur Resources about less damaging waste disposal technologies at this mine--and these do exist."

Federal officials in Environment Canada and DFO defend the amendment, saying that habitat destruction can be compensated for by altering nearby areas to create new fish habitat.

But independent fish and aquatic habitat experts examined the mining company's reports Environment Canada and DFO used to justify the amendment and say they are hopelessly inadequate and scientifically inferior, and that no new fish habitat will be created. They say the compensation the company describes could be done under present legislation, and that they are using a confused and invalid argument that leads to fuzzy and inaccurate results.

Dr. Gordon Hartman, a retired DFO biologist in Nanaimo, BC, says: "Government's approval of this amendment is built on problematic compensation plans and failure to consider potential impacts to fish in this river system (e.g., temperature effects, water quality effects below the sedimentation pond). It appears to be unsound environmental management to allow the project to proceed and then listing these ponds in Schedule 2 of the MMER."

Dr. John Gibson, another former DFO biologist who lives in Newfoundland and knows the area, says, "The two lakes have populations of salmon and trout and associated wildlife, such as beavers, otters, and waterfowl, all of which will be poisoned. The life of the mine is expected to be six years, but the ponds will become toxic waste sites in perpetuity. Over that time there is a possibility that there will be leakage of copper and zinc, which are toxic to fish, and if the retaining dam breaks there will be massive mortality of salmon down the Exploits River."

Gibson says, "The so-called compensation plan is totally inadequate and is merely an excuse to allow the mine to pollute the two lakes. Trout Pond has effectively been privatised for the mining company to use as a toxic waste dump. The Fisheries Act, previously held in esteem, has been considerably weakened."

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Contacts:
Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada, 613-569-3439, catherine(at)miningwatch.ca
Maggie Paquet, Citizens' Stewardship Coalition, 250-723-8802, maggie_paquet(at)telus.net
Dr. John Gibson, retired DFO biologist, NL: 709-726-2498, rjgibson(at)nf.sympatico.ca
Dr. Gordon Hartman, retired DFO biologist, BC: 250-758-7696, gordon_hartman(at)telus.net

For more information, see:

Mining Projects Expected to Request Listing Tailings Impoundment Areas (TIAs) on Schedule 2 of the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations

 

Project/Mine Name

Proposed or Existing TIA

Province/Territory

1.

Kemess North Project

Proposed

British Columbia

2.

Red Chris

Proposed

British Columbia

3.

High Lake

Proposed

Nunavut

4.

Doris North

Proposed

Nunavut

5.

Meadowbank Gold

Proposed

Saskatchewan

6.

Goldfields

Proposed

Northwest Territories

7.

Yellowknife Gold

Proposed

Northwest Territories

8.

NICO Property

Proposed

Northwest Territories

9.

Damoti Lake

Proposed

Northwest Territories

10.

Wabush Mines

Existing (mine has a transitional authorisation)

Newfoundland and Labrador

11.

Duck Pond

Proposed

Newfoundland and Labrador

12.

Iron Ore Company

Existing (mine has a transitional authorisation)

Newfoundland and Labrador

13.

Mount Wright

Existing

Newfoundland and Labrador

(source: Environment Canada)