Canada gets tough on mining pollution

The Government of Canada is proposing new regulations to significantly reduce pollution entering waterways from metal mines

The proposed Metal Mining Effluent Regulations would apply to all metal mines nationwide and will impose limits for metal and cyanide releases and prevent the discharge of effluent that is acutely lethal to fish. The regulatory package also includes an Environmental Effects Monitoring program to evaluate the effects of metal mining effluent on fish, fish habitat, and the use of fisheries resources.

Sixty-three of Canada’s 93 mines are currently not covered by the 1977 Metal Mining Liquid Effluent Regulations as they were constructed after this date, but will be liable for the new set of rules. The 1979 Alice Arm Tailings Deposit Regulations will also be repealed under the moves, following recommendation to the Government. A total of 67 operating mines were identified as being potentially impacted by the proposed new regulations with an associated cost for upgrading of effluent treatment facilities estimated in the range of CA $175 million (US $114 million) to CA $350 million (US $229 million).

Under the proposals, the monthly mean concentration of cyanide permitted will be introduced at one milligram per litre (mg/L); the prescribed limit for total suspended solids will be lowered from 25 mg/L to 15 mg/L for monthly mean concentrations; effluent PH will need to maintained in the range of 6 – 9.5 as opposed to meeting currently prescribed minimum values; and a new rule will require effluent to be non-acutely lethal to rainbow trout, with mines having to test this.

Mines will also be forced to conduct an Environmental Effects Monitoring programme to evaluate the effects of mining effluent on the aquatic environment, which will help evaluate the effectiveness of current and future pollution prevention and control technologies. The results will be used to determine if better protection of fish, fish habitat and fisheries on a site-specific basis is required.

“These regulations, developed in cooperation with the mining industry, First Nations [tribes], environmental organisations and provincial and territorial governments will mean cleaner water and less pollution in mining communities,” commented Environment Minister David Anderson. “Our objective, which fits with the ecosystem approach to environmental management, is to improve the management of metal mine effluents by industry to enhance the protection of fish, fish habitat and fisheries resources.”

Interested parties have 60 days to comment on the regulatory proposals, which are expected to be in force in early 2002. Canada’s metal mines, which are principally located in Ontario and Québec, produce over CA $11 billion (US $7 billion) in annual revenue and employ over 33,000 people.

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