When considering all the aspects of the massive and expensive Giant Mine Remediation Project, one concern stands head and shoulders above the rest – can people going about their daily routine inadvertently expose themselves to dangerous levels of arsenic?
In recent years, academia and various levels of government have whipped up fear among residents with dribs and drabs of information about the dangers of arsenic left over from the operations of the long-closed gold mine.
A risk assessment report, prepared earlier this year by Canada North Environmental Services in Markham, Ont., stated, for people who live in Ndilo, the calculated risks are higher than in other
locations around the city.
However, the risks are still considered “very low to low risk … the same risk as having x-rays or a medical scan.”
The report also stated: “As the risks in Ndilo are higher than in other areas, a plan to clean up the soils should be considered for the community.”
It also called for additional soil sampling to be carried out on Latham Island.
It all sounds a bit scary. Especially since there are still so many unanswered questions, such as about “hotspots.”
The term “hotspot” refers to a specific area, stated one federal spokesperson, usually of limited extent, where the arsenic is present in higher concentrations than in the surrounding area. For example, a hotspot could result in a low-lying area where water pools or runoff collects, causing arsenic (or other metals) to collect in higher concentrations over time.
The 2017 annual report from the Giant Mine Oversight Board, states that some members of the public asked the board for an “Arsenic 101” course for the public.
It also identified several areas of existing communications strategies with the general public that need to be strengthened and also suggested more resources be devoted to “communicate and engage the public at large.”
The public has difficulty to get information, provide input, or ask about opportunities, except through quarterly newsletters and yearly public meetings, stated the report.
Which brings us to last month’s yearly public meeting at Northern United Place on May 15, which was held to detail the recommendations and take questions from the public.
Chief Ernest Betsina wanted some answers about the dangers of an arsenic hotspot in Ndilo, one close to Kalemi Dene School.
“How contaminated is it? Will somebody tell me that?” he asked.
Alas, even though it had been known for weeks that the meeting was coming no one could answer his question.
The only person who apparently could, Matt Spence, the regional director of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, was not at the meeting.
“I’m sorry that I can’t answer your question,” replied Natalie Plato, the remediation project’s deputy director, adding it falls outside the remediation project’s mandate and scope.
Giant Mine Oversight Board Kathleen Racher agreed Betsina was not receiving suitable answers.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs is working on contamination issues but he wasn’t at the meeting.
“(Spence) is not here, so chief, we’re not giving you very much satisfaction tonight and I know that,” said Kathleen Racher, executive director of the oversight board, to Betsina.
No kidding. How could officials not expect those types of questions to be asked and not have someone present who could provide answers available in the risk assessment from Canada North Environmental Services?
That report, and it’s “plain language summary” is only available online after securing a password.
That in itself is symbolic of the communications problems that plague this project.
The residents of Ndilo, and those in the entire Yellowknife area deserve straight answers and quick action. Anything less is a complete disservice by government to the community.