About four years after areas with elevated arsenic levels were first identified in Ndilo, the federal government is making plans to clean up the contaminated soil.
Matt Spence, the regional director general for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC), formerly Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and Andre Corrieveau, the Northwest Territories' chief public health officer, met with Chief Ernest Betsina and Yellowknives Dene First Nation councillors on Tuesday to discuss remediation of arsenic-contaminated soil in Ndilo.
Tuesday's meeting was “a start, let's put it that way,” Betsina said Wednesday afternoon. “We're really going to put pressure on them to make sure (remediation) gets done properly.”
Betsina said government officials told him they will begin work to clean up the arsenic “hotspots” in Ndilo within the next month.
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.
More recently, a Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment noted that one of these hotspots is near the Kalemi Dene School.
The hot spots generally have arsenic concentration greater than 900 milligrams per kilogram of soil (mg/kg).
The average levels of arsenic in soil in Canada range from 4.8 to 13.6 mg/kg, according to Health Canada.
Higher levels of arsenic are present in lakes, soil and sediments in and around Ndilo, Dettah and Yellowknife because of past gold mining activities at Giant Mine.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation has been calling on the federal government and the GNWT to resolve jurisdictional disputes and work together to put up arsenic warning signs in Ndilo.
Betsina voiced his concerns about the contaminated soil publicly in May.
“It’s right next door to our playground or our school yard and that doesn’t feel very comfortable to me and the safety of the kids that are down there,” he said at an open meeting hosted by the Giant Mine Oversight Board, the independent body overseeing clean up efforts at the Giant Mine site.
“Somebody take responsibility, whether it be the federal government or the territorial government.”
Following that meeting, the Giant Mine Oversight Board, asked the federal government and the GNWT to work together to remediate the hot spots in Ndilo, and in the meantime, install warning signs.
Spence has said there is no need to put up signs in Ndilo because the government is going to clean up the contaminated areas.
Betsina is “certainly not happy” about how long it has taken for the federal government and the GNWT to address the hot spots, but is hopeful a solution will come soon, now that officials from both governments have met with Yellowknives Dene First Nation leadership.
“It's looking positive, we just need to work with them to make sure that we do remediate this concern,” he said.
It is unclear right now how the hot spots will be cleaned up, how much it will cost, and when the work will be finished.
Remediation of the soil in Ndilo is a responsibility of the federal government.
CIRNAC was unable to provide details before Yellowknifer's print deadline.