Health & Community Impacts: Kamloops Delegation Learns Hard Lessons from Malartic Open Pit Mine

(Malartic) While the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation (SSN) is hosting its first days of community hearings on the controversial Ajax open pit mine project near Kamloops, B.C., municipal representatives are touring across the other end of the country, in Ontario and Quebec, learning some hard lessons about the impacts of large open pit mines located next to city limits. Yesterday, the Kamloops delegation met the Abitibi-Temiscamingue Regional Public Health Authority and residents affected by the Canadian Malartic open pit mine. MiningWatch helped to coordinate and participated in those meetings.

“You have to power to say ‘no’ now, but if you decide to go ahead with this Ajax mine in Kamloops, be prepared for unanticipated community and health impacts –because there will be tons of those,” is essentially what residents affected by the Malartic mine told the Kamloops delegation over the last two days. “Dust, ground tremors, air blasts, noise, increased traffic, decreasing population, inability to sell properties, social tensions, and losses of local businesses are amongst the main impacts raised by Malartic’s residents we met,” observes Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch.

The visit comes as the City of Kamloops is about to submit its comments, before May 11th, to both provincial and federal regulators regarding Polish-owned KGHM’s environmental application for the Ajax project, a low grade copper-gold open pit mine that would be located right on the edge of the city.

On Sunday, Kamloops’ Mayor Peter Milobar and city councillors Denis Walsh and Tina Lange spent a long day meeting with the mine’s representatives, municipal representatives, and affected community members. “We took them on a two-hour tour of the community, meeting with several property owners in different parts of the city so that they can see the range of impacts experienced by local residents,” explains Lapointe. Those included cracks in house foundations and walls (with monitors installed by the mine company); accumulated mine dust inside houses, outside patios, swimming pools, and gutters; as well as clogged-up air exchanger filters and respiratory-assisted machines used by people with respiratory problems.

On Monday morning, the delegation met with Regional Public Health Authority representatives, who emphasized their ongoing concerns about the health impacts of the Malartic mine and the up-coming expansion project (see highlights presented here). In two separate studies published in 2015, the health authorities have documented impacts up to 2.5 km away from the mine site (which is the outmost limit of the city for which data exists). In neighborhoods furthest from the mine, the noise, daily blasts, and dust respectively affect 15-26%, 17-41%, and 27-48% of the population. In neighborhoods closest to the mine, the proportion of people affected by the mine climbs up to 54% for noise, 74% for dust and 78% for ground tremors. Over a third of the population want to move away from Malartic due to the mine’s impacts.

Says Lapointe, “The Kamloops delegation were quite surprised by the extent of some of the community and health impacts in Malartic. While being slightly further away from the city, we anticipate that the Ajax mine would likely generate greater impacts, considering the mine would be twice as large, located uphill and upwind from a much larger urban population –nearly 30 times the population of Malartic, in an arid climate, and with next to no financial capacity to pay for costly mitigation or compensation measures that would be necessary.”

The Malartic mine is currently the largest open pit mine located within city limits in Canada. Despite having spent over a 100 million dollars in mitigation and compensation measures to date, the Malartic mine is incapable of meeting regulated levels of dust emissions, ground tremors, air blasts, and noise. It holds the record in the province, across all industries, with 171 environmental infractions and over 2000 non-compliances since construction started in 2009.

For more information, see the open letter presented to Kamloops City Council last March by Malartic resident Diane Gagnon, as well as our recent report “Economic Risk Analysis” of KGHM’s Ajax project. See also our blog highlighting some of the main reasons to be concerned about the Ajax mine, and a table comparing the Malartic and Ajax mines.