Canada’s Toxic Mine Tailings Secret Goes to Court: Information on toxic pollution from mines being hidden from public

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(Toronto) Canada’s Federal Court will be hearing a lawsuit today against the Minister of the Environment for failing to ensure that Canada’s mining industry publicly reports the hundreds of millions of kilograms of toxic pollution it generates each year.

The lawsuit was filed in Federal Court in late 2007 by Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) on behalf of MiningWatch Canada and Great Lakes United. The Application for Judicial Review alleges that the Minister broke the law when he directed mining companies to not report huge amounts of pollution sent to tailings ponds and waste rock piles to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI).

“We are arguing that the Minister has ignored his legal duties under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to provide the public with the full extent of pollutants released by mining companies in Canada,” said Justin Duncan, Staff Lawyer with Ecojustice. “The Canadian public – and especially residents living downstream from mining operations – have the right to scrutinize the environmental and health hazards these mining companies continue to create.”

In stark contrast, for more than ten years the U.S. government has required mining companies to report the amount of pollutants they release under the American equivalent of the NPRI, the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). In 2005, in the United States, mining operations represented less than one-half a percent of all industries reporting to the TRI; however, they accounted for 27% of all pollutants released – more than 530 million kilograms of toxic materials.

Pollution in the form of mine tailings and waste rock – the data being withheld from the Canadian public – accounted for more than 97% of the total pollutants reported by the U.S. mining industry.

“Given the enormous amounts of carcinogens and heavy metals like lead and mercury reported in U.S. mine tailings, it is absurd that Canadian mines are being let off the hook and not reporting this massive form of toxic pollution,” said MiningWatch Canada spokesman Jamie Kneen. “Whether you live in Smithers, British Columbia, Voisey’s Bay, Labrador, or anywhere in between, Canadians have a right to know what poisons industry is releasing into our air, water, and soil.”

“There are at least 80 facilities across the country not reporting their tailings and waste rock pollution to the NPRI. If the U.S. figures are any indication, this could be many millions of kilograms of toxic pollution,” said John Jackson, Director of Clean Production and Toxics for Great Lakes United. “But, so long as the Minister of the Environment continues to direct the mining industry to break the law and conceal these figures, we’ll never know.”

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For further information please contact:
Justin Duncan or Marlene Cashin, Ecojustice (416) 368-7533 ext. 22 or ext. 31
John Jackson, Great Lakes United, (519) 744-7503 or (519) 591-7503 (cell)
Jamie Kneen, MiningWatch Canada (613) 569-3439 or (613) 761-2273 (cell)