The federal department responsible for lands in Ndilo has yet to begin cleaning arsenic-laden soil next to the community’s K’alemi Dene School. Worse than that, the feds still even refuse to install warning signs in the meantime.

Arsenic hotspots in Ndilo were first identified in a 2014 federally-funded study conducted by Stantec and the Det’on Cho Corporation, the economic development arm of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

A 2,500-page human health and ecological risk assessment, dated January 2018, identified several arsenic “hotspots” — areas of soil with elevated levels of arsenic as a result of past mining activities at Giant Mine — in Ndilo soil, including near the school.

The hotspots generally have arsenic concentrations of greater than 900 milligrams per kilogram of soil.

Canada-wide, the average soil arsenic level is between 4.8 to 13.6 mg/kg, according to Health Canada.

In May, Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina called on the federal and territorial governments to set aside any jurisdictional disputes and put up warning signs in Ndilo. His pleas were supported by the Giant Mine Oversight Board, the independent body overseeing remediation of the site of the gold mine, which entered production in 1948 and ceased operations in 2004.

After meeting with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) officials on June 19, Betsina said he was informed work to clean up the hotspots would begin within the next month.

So July has passed and residents and schoolchildren are now watching as the first snowflakes of winter begin to fall. What has happened in the interim?

Not much, as far as Yellowknifer can determine.

Det’on Cho has taken fresh soil samples from areas near the school and on Sept. 7, submitted a report with an analysis and recommendations to CIRNAC. Results from the report will be released at a community meeting at some later date.

It is only then where discussions will take place about what – if any – actions should be taken.

Betsina has showed extreme calm in dealing with this situation.

“We’re trying to work within the system to try to get (the soil issue) resolved as soon as we can,” he said last week.

However, Yellowknifer isn’t afraid to be a squeaky wheel if it means greasing the slow bureaucratic wheels to arrive quickly to a resolution of this issue.

But before it’s determined how best to handle the contaminated soil – to truck it off, or perhaps to place a cap over it – we find it incredulous the feds wouldn’t have spent a few thousand dollars to install some warning signs at least around the school. Not just for residents – who likely are well aware of the mine’s toxic legacy – but for any visitors or tourists who might wander into hotspot areas.

Would that really be too much to ask? The GNWT has many signs in city limits and beyond warning people about high levels of arsenic left over from gold mining processes decades ago at Giant and Con mines.

Or perhaps the federal brain trust believes arsenic warning signs in Ndilo simply advertise the blatant failure on this file?

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