Industry leading the way in cleanup of old mine sites

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Extent of exploration waste in Labrador now coming to light, Nunatsiavut rep says

A program aimed at identifying waste left behind in the Labrador wilderness after old mineral exploration programs were finished has so far identified 32 separate sites in need of attention.

The Restoration of Labrador Exploration Sites (ROLES) program is an initiative fuelled by a collection of private companies active in the region led by Altius Minerals.

This summer, staff dedicated to the program mapped a series of sites with deposits of waste including chemical drums, mostly used for diesel fuel, left to rust in the wild.

Some of the drums are still filled with hazardous materials and others are leaking diesel into the surrounding environment.

By all reports, the individual sites are not particularly large — not nearly enough to be considered environmental disasters or even draw much attention on their own. However, taken collectively, or in person, the pollution is notable.

“It’s a really uncomfortable feeling to come across these abandoned sites in the middle of nowhere when there’s such beauty around,” said Kaylen Janes, manager of environmental affairs and community relations with Altius Minerals.

“The sites that had the drums that were actually leaking, I think those had the biggest impact on those of us who did the inspections. ... It’s hard to visit a really remote area of Labrador and then come across these drums, which are very blatantly — there’s soil contamination and you can smell the diesel and things like that.”

Altius is chief financial contributor to the ROLES initiative, providing $50,000 to the program this year and committing $50,000 for 2014. The company also provides Janes’ time, in order to keep the work going.

Aurora Energy is another key participant.

Being active in the region for years now, on the hunt for uranium prospects, Aurora Energy had prospectors and geologists coming across old exploration waste before the start of the program.

The company committed to cleaning up what it found, but the ROLES program has moved its efforts beyond its own claim areas.

“We are aware that the mining industry sometimes, in some areas, has a poor record in terms of its ability to clean up after ourselves, so we’re trying to improve upon that record — whether it’s on our land or not,” said Aurora’s John Jory, speaking with The Telegram Friday.

“My first impression is that the sites aren’t that big a deal in terms of the physical disturbance and a handful of drums in most cases, scattered in the trees, on the edge of a clearing, on the edge of a bog perhaps.

“I’m not trying to downplay it, because I do work in the mineral industry, but you know it’s a small physical impact on the landscape,” he said.

“Nonetheless it’s something we’ve committed to cleaning up with the help of others.”

The actual work undertaken has so far involved a great deal of research — digging through archives, consulting with government regulators, speaking with people who might have knowledge of mining exploration in specific areas and know exactly where the oil drums are stacked.

In 2013, the work extended to investigation of identified locations. In 2014, actual cleanup is expected to begin.

“A lot of (the sites) we were aware of, but the extent of them, I think, is just coming to light now that we’re getting out and spending a little more time looking at them,” said Carl Maclean, deputy minister of Lands and Natural Resources with the Nunatsiavut Government.

“Back when Voisey’s Bay was being discovered, there was a huge staking rush in northern Labrador and a lot of these sites are a result of that,” he said.

“A lot of the companies that left these sites there are no longer in existence. What’s happened since then is we have exploration and reporting standards that we apply which require security deposits. That was not required at the time.”

The Inuit government has been providing research, letters of support, staff time and helicopter time for the ROLES team.

Helicopter time provided this year would otherwise have cost the program $10,000.

Helicopter and plane time has also been donated and discounted by various private companies as a means of support.

Vale is a main player in the region and another supporter of the ROLES program, according to both Janes and Vale Newfoundland and Labrador spokesman Bob Carter, who said exact contributions for the coming year are now under discussion.

The program was awarded an $11,000 grant from the provincial Multi-Materials Stewardship Board in October, during Waste Reduction Week.

Program leaders have sought more substantial funding from the provincial government. An application for funding will be under consideration during this year’s budget process.

The goal is to have enough funding and support in 2014 to be able to clean up 11 sites marked as cleanup priorities.

Organizations: Restoration of Labrador Exploration Sites, Multi-Materials Stewardship Board

Geographic location: Labrador, Northern Labrador

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Recent comments

  • NWR
    December 14, 2013 - 08:05

    The NL government through the former Dept of Mines and Energy is responsible for some of these sites but will not acknowledge nor assist in the clean-up.