On June 17th representatives of Alternatives North, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, City of Yellowknife, North Slave Métis Alliance, Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories signed a landmark environmental agreement for the Giant Mine Remediation Project. Several years in the making, the agreement provides for an independent oversight body that will review the status of the project and act as an intervenor at public hearings. The agreement also contains for provisions on public reporting and research on how to provide a more permanent solution than the current plan to contain 237,000 tons of underground arsenic in perpetuity. You can read the media release and see the environmental agreement.
Giant Mine is an abandoned gold mining operation that was active between 1948-2004. The mine was a significant producer of arsenic trioxide dust, which was initially sent up a roaster stack with absolutely no pollution controls. After a Yellowknives Dene child died and several other community members were sickened in 1951, pollution controls did slowly improve (though did not eliminate) the amount of airborne arsenic in the local environment. The two companies that operated Giant Mine (Giant Yellowknife Mines, Ltd. and Royal Oak) stored the arsenic dust collected in pollution control equipment in underground chambers, creating a vexing contamination problem that has become the responsibility of the Canadian government. The government currently plans to freeze the arsenic underground, along with measures to mitigate arsenic on the surface of the old mine. After a recent environmental assessement of the project, the government adopted a shorter term time frame for the frozen block project, hoping to find a more permanent way to remove the threat of arsenic at Giant Mine