Email this articleE-mail this story  Letter to the EDITORWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

Arsenic has been leaking into Baker Creek near Giant Mine for about 50 years. DIAND is looking for a permanent solution to contain the 230,000 tonnes of arsenic still stored in underground chambers. - Yose Cormier/NNSL photo

Arsenic popsicle, anyone?

Giant Mine remediation plans

Yose Cormier
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 30/03) - Some 230,000 tonnes of arsenic just outside Yellowknife may soon be frozen solid.

That seems to be the preferred solution for the Giant Mine remediation project.

However, the GNWT would like more study done on a third option: deep disposal.

The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) has been looking at possible solutions to neutralizing the arsenic trioxide that resulted from 50 years of gold mining at the Giant Mine.

The remediation team looked at 56 treatment options divided between leaving the arsenic underground or removing it and storing it elsewhere.

From those 56, the team narrowed it down to 12 and this week presented two options - frozen block or removal and cement encapsulation for a final public review.

Emery Paquin, director of environmental protection service with the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, said the GNWT thinks the remediation team needs to look more closely at the deep disposal option.

"We don't believe this option has received the same attention as the other two," said Paquin.

The deep disposal option was rejected by the remediation team because it poses a moderate risk to worker safety. Paquin noted that it would have a very low long term risk and that the frozen block option would cost $100 million less.

Bill Mitchell, the mine project manager, said in order to get more information on this option, the team would need three to five years.

But Paquin didn't believe that.

"We are not asking for a detailed engineering study. They came forward with information we hadn't heard before (on the other two options) and we want to have the same information on the deep disposal option," he said.

Whether the GNWT gets its wish remains to be seen.

"We are getting a clear message from the community that there has been enough study and it's time to move on," he said.

Mitchell noted that since a first public workshop in January the remediation team has held 18 public sessions with various community groups.

"It's time to make a decision," he said.

Mitchell would not say whether the frozen block option was going to be the final decision.

The team is awaiting recommendations from a peer review panel made up of nine recognized experts.

However, the GNWT is confident no steps will be taken before the deep disposal option is closely looked at.

"We are confident they will take the GNWT position seriously," said Paquin.

The remediation team hopes to have a decision on which system to use by this fall so they can then work on an in-depth project description which would be ready for the fall of 2004.

The team then needs approval from the government agencies involved. The hope is to have the system under construction by 2006-2007.

The 237,000 tonnes of arsenic are stored in 10 chambers and five mined-out cavities (stopes), about 250 feet underground.

At the time the arsenic was stored, the ground was permafrost and there was no water seepage.

But the ground is no longer frozen year-round because the permafrost is degraded, partly because of working with the mine.

See related story, next page