MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: De Beers' alleged mercury contamination at its Victor diamond mine

Published by MAC on 2015-12-23
Source: CBC, statement (2015-12-21)

... and the failure of self-monitoring

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's Wildlands League has released a new report highlighting mercury contamination from De Beers' Victor diamond mine in northern Ontario. The full report and background materials are at: http://wildlandsleague.org/victor-report/

As noted below "The [Canadian] Ministry of Environment and Climate Change struggles to properly oversee this monitoring program."

Since De Beers is 85% owned by Anglo American plc (the Botswana government holding the other 15%), this makes it a matter of concern beyond both Ontario and Canada as a whole.

De Beers Victor mine fails to monitor mercury risk, environmental group says

Wildlands League calls for independent monitoring of diamond mine near Attawapiskat First Nation

By Jody Porter

CBC News

21 December 2015

Mercury contamination from the De Beers diamond mine in northern Ontario may be much higher than the company — or the provincial government — are reporting, according to a new study by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's Wildlands League.

De Beers denies the allegations, saying in a statement that its environmental data is often misrepresented by other parties.

The Wildlands League study, released Monday and titled Nothing to See Here..., is the result of an 18-month investigation done by the environmental group. It calls for independent environmental monitoring of De Beers Victor mine.

The key concern is that the open pit mine, located in a fragile ecosystem in the James Bay Lowlands, is contributing to the creation of methylmercury, a neurotoxin that accumulates in fish and other food sources of the people who live in the area.

​"De Beers has failed to report on five out of nine surface water monitoring stations, a mandatory requirement of its permit, for the last seven years," said Trevor Hesselink, director of Policy and Research for CPAWS Wildlands League and lead author of the special report.

"These failures to report important downstream results to the Ministry [of Environment] as required, have shocked us," the environmental group said.

The Wildlands League report draws four conclusions:

A spokesperson De Beers said it collects data from 200 ground wells and 15 surface wells and submits "relevant reports" to the government.

"Some sample sites that were relevant in the past may no longer be the most relevant or material now as the mine moved from construction to operations," Tom Ormsby said in an email to CBC News.

Ontario's Mines Minister said he's satisfied that the independent consultant hired by De Beers meets the requirements of the company's mining permit.

"I certainly know that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change required De Beers to undertake what I think is accurately described as the most comprehensive monitoring plan ever for an Ontario mine," Michael Gravelle said.

The ministry said it recently raised some of the Wildlands League's concerns with De Beers and change has already occurred.

"There are improvements that could be made in terms of how they're presenting the data, how they're organizing it and how they're clarifying it," ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan said. "The company has agreed and committed to doing that."

Hesselink agreed that De Beers recently provided further information to fill some of the gaps in reporting, but he said the new data also revealed concerning discrepancies with past reporting.

"It actually has had the net effect of decreasing our confidence in the [self-monitoring] program in a lot of ways," he said.


Nothing to See Here: the failures of self-monitoring and reporting of mercury at the De Beers Victor diamond mine in Canada

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Wildlands League press release - http://wildlandsleague.org/news/failure-of-self-monitoring-at-the-de-beers-victor-diamond-mine-in-canada/

Failure of self-monitoring at the De Beers Victor diamond mine in Canada

Independent monitoring & reporting needed, says environmental not for profit

21 December 2015

Toronto – An investigation into one of world’s highest quality producing diamond mines has found failures in self-monitoring raising troubling concerns about entrusting the company to protect the environment in which it operates –one of world’s largest wetlands and the wildlife it supports. In a report being released today on the De Beers Victor Diamond mine, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s Wildlands League is asking the government of Ontario to engage an independent third party to take over monitoring at the mine to restore the integrity and credibility of the program.

Titled Nothing to see here: failures of self-monitoring and reporting at the De Beers Victor Diamond Mine in Canada, it is the first report of its kind by an environmental not-for-profit in Canada that provides a detailed analysis of persistent reporting failures associated with a mine.

“De Beers has failed to report on 5 out of 9 surface water monitoring stations, a mandatory requirement of its permit, for the last 7 years,” said Trevor Hesselink, Director of Policy and Research for CPAWS Wildlands League and lead author of the special report. “To compound matters, it is the downstream mercury samples that are not being reported,” Hesselink added. These are just a few of the many critical problems revealed over the course of the 18 month investigation.

The mine’s activities trigger adverse impacts on the environment by stimulating mercury conversion to methylmercury. Methylmercury, a neurotoxin, is a dangerous threat to aquatic life as it biomagnifies up the food chain into top predator fish. “Unreported data from one of the downstream stations shared with us by a concerned party, shows a tripling of methylmercury,” Hesselink said. “These increases are particularly alarming in the context of a river system in which the fish already exceed safe guidelines for eating and Indigenous people rely on fish as a country food.”

The Victor mine is the first of potentially 16 industrial intrusions into the Hudson Bay Lowland—a vast wetland containing expansive bog and fen complexes that hold globally significant carbon stores in peat accumulated over millennia. Victor opened in 2008 and has an expected mine life of 10 years. De Beers has signaled an interest in digging the pit deeper to extend the mine life and digging another pit to bring the ore back to the Victor site for processing. In either case, the lands and waters near the Victor mine site will be under additional pressures and a robust and reliable monitoring program will be needed.

“The public needs confidence that the Victor mine and any potential future projects are properly assessed and monitored,” says Janet Sumner Executive Director for CPAWS Wildlands. “Our investigation shows us that isn’t happening,” Sumner stated.

CPAWS Wildlands is also concerned that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change largely failed to pick up the problems with the self-monitoring program by DeBeers. “If the Ministry is struggling with oversight of one mine, what can the public expect if multiple diamond mines, the Ring of Fire and other development interests get underway as promised?” Sumner said.

To restore the integrity and credibility of this monitoring program, CPAWS Wildlands League calls on the province to take four emergency actions:

(1) stop relying on the existing self-monitoring and establish independent monitoring and reporting;
(2) recover the full suite of monitoring data, especially all downstream data;
(3) review the monitoring program and provide additional monitoring intensity for Granny Creeks which run past the mine; and,
(4) remove barriers to information and ensure public access to required performance monitoring.

See the full CPAWS Wildlands’ special report and background materials at: http://wildlandsleague.org/victor-report/.

The Executive Summary is also available on our website in French, Cree and OjiCree.

High res images from the report are also available upon request.

For interviews, contact: Anna Baggio, Director, Conservation Planning 416-453-3285 mobile or by email anna[at]wildlandsleague.org.

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Wildlands League is a not for profit conservation organization in Ontario, Canada and a chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. Learn more about us at www.wildlandsleague.org.

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