MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: Environmental group takes De Beers to court over mercury monitoring

Published by MAC on 2016-12-14
Source: CBC News, The Star (2016-12-11)

Diamond company failed to fully report levels of toxic mercury at northern Ontario mine, group says

DeBeers failed to report toxic levels of mercury and methylmercury in the waters surrounding a northern Ontario diamond mine, a Canadian environmental group claims.

The Wildlands League, a chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, is taking the company to court over the issue.

The open pit Victor Diamond Mine is located 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat First Nation, in the ecologically pristine James Bay Lowlands.

The environmentalists allege the company has neglected to properly report on mercury levels from five of nine surface water monitoring stations from 2009 to 2016, which is a violation of the Ontario Water Resources Act.

See also on MAC: 2015-12-23 Canada: De Beers' alleged mercury contamination at its Victor diamond mine

Environmentalists allege De Beers failed to report on mercury in water

Private prosecution tool used to take diamond mining giant to court over levels of methylmercury near Victor mine in northern Ontario.

Tanya Talaga

https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/12/06/environmentalists-say-de-beers-failed-to-report-on-mercury-in-water.html

6 December, 2016

A Canadian environmental group is taking DeBeers Canada to court, claiming the company failed to report toxic levels of mercury and methylmercury in the waters surrounding a northern Ontario diamond mine.

The Wildlands League, a chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, says De Beers has failed to consistently report the levels of methylmercury in the creeks surrounding the Victor Diamond Mine, located 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat First Nation.

De Beers Group denies the allegations, saying, “To suggest that we have not been reporting per our legal requirements for seven years is grossly misleading. That is simply not true.”

Diamonds taken out of the Victor Mine are known as being among the highest quality in the world, renowned for their exceptional colour and clarity. The Victor open pit diamond mine is located in the ecologically pristine James Bay Lowlands.

The environmentalists allege the company has neglected to properly report on mercury levels from five of nine surface water monitoring stations from 2009 to 2016, which is a violation of the mine’s condition to operate, and that these are offences under the Ontario Water Resources Act.

Anna Baggio, conservation director at Wildlands League, said the group first alerted the Ontario government 18 months ago about the missing data but nothing was done.

“The reason why we are doing it is a violation of the condition of the permit that DeBeers has. You have to meet the conditions of your permit. It is not that they just missed one station over one month or a few months or even a year. They missed it over seven years, in five stations out of nine. So it is quite significant,” Baggio said.

The water stations are in the North Granny Creek and the South Granny Creek. Both creeks frame the mine.

“They converge downstream. What caught our attention initially, last year, is the downstream stations were missing. That is really important. You want to be able to compare upstream to downstream to understand the impact of the mine, which is in the middle,” she said.

“We expected Ontario to do something. We alerted Ontario, over a year and a half ago, and we alerted De Beers,” she added.

Tom Ormsby, head of corporate affairs for De Beers Canada, said the company has not had the opportunity to discuss the issue with its legal counsel, so it is unable to provide any comment on the league’s specific claim.

“We have been in 100 per cent compliance with all our permits and environmental reporting requirements. While we will follow legal due process in this matter, we also look forward to highlighting the world-class research and reporting that takes place at our De Beers Victor Mine, which has been shared at scientific conferences around the world,” Ormsby said in a statement.

Gary Wheeler, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, said it takes the concerns very seriously and will study the proposed legal action. The ministry enforces the Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act.

De Beers obtained the necessary permits in accordance with the legislation, he said. These permits and approvals have strict terms and conditions that the company must adhere to, including conditions concerning operations, reporting and monitoring, he added.

The Wildlands League initiated a private prosecution using the Ontario Offences Act. Private prosecutions are important tools that let private citizens hold industry to account, said Julia Croome, an Ecojustice lawyer, who represented the league last Thursday.

“When governments don’t enforce their own laws, this course of action is in the public interest,” said Croome. “The idea is this is an early warning system that lets the public and government know there is something to be worried about.”

De Beer’s latest annual report, provided in June of this year, did include the old data, said Croome. They have now added the missing data and the Wildlands League is studying it.

A private prosecution was used in Alberta against oilsands producer Syncrude Canada for the deaths of 1,606 ducks. The ducks landed on the company’s tailings ponds, Croome said. Both provincial and federal regulators said they would act against Syncrude but they didn’t, so a private prosecution was launched.

Alberta Crown lawyers eventually took over the case. Syncrude was eventually found guilty and paid a $3-million fine in 2010.

“We are prepared to take this through to trial. The allegation is based on evidence which we’ll put forward to the courts, if we get to that point. The province has a duty to monitor,” Croome said.

The mine is not responsible for directly depositing methylmercury into nearby creeks, Baggio said.

But mining activities stimulate the conversion of mercury — already present in the ecosystem as a consequence of coal-fired plant pollution — into methylmercury. Basically wherever you have boreal bogs, mercury settles in the wetlands, Baggio said. Ontario no longer burns coal but the United States still does and that pollution can end up settling in northern Ontario.

Methylmercury, a neurotoxin, enters the food chain when fish absorb it directly through their gills or when they consume small organisms, like plankton, that are contaminated, the Wildlands League said. People then eat the contaminated fish. Those at highest risk are women of childbearing age and children under 15. Methylmercury can affect nervous system and brain development.

Attawapiskat is an indigenous community of 1,900 people along the James Bay coast that consistently faces many issues resulting from poverty, flooding and intergenerational trauma from the residential school experience in Canada. For more than 100 years, indigenous children were separated from their parents and sent to state-funded, church-run schools.

Attawapiskat has been at the centre of the youth suicide crisis for decades. Earlier this year, Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency because it was overwhelmed by children trying to kill themselves. On April 10, seven children were brought into the small local hospital with drug overdoses from suspected suicide attempts.

The Victor Mine will come to the end of its lifespan in about four years. De Beers is trying to get an extension on the mine’s life with the “Tango” project. It is also exploring options to dig the original pit deeper, said Baggio. In order to proceed, community consent is desired by all parties — De Beers and Attawapiskat — but it is not provincially necessary.

Attawapiskat recently elected a new chief, Ignace Gull. He could not be reached for comment.

The next court appearance is scheduled for the Ontario Court of Justice on Jan. 12, Baggio added.


Environmental group takes De Beers to court over mercury monitoring at diamond mine near Attawapiskat

Diamond company failed to fully report levels of toxic mercury at northern Ontario mine, group says.

Sarah Bridge

CBC News - http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/debeers-mercury-diamond-mine-attawapiskat-1.3883088

6 December, 2016

A Toronto-based environmental group is taking on diamond giant De Beers over its alleged failure to fully report on the mercury levels at its Victor Diamond Mine near Attawapiskat First Nation in Northern Ontario.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's Wildlands League has filed a legal action against the diamond company after raising concerns last year that mercury contamination near the mine could be higher than the company or the province were letting on.

In a statement, a spokesperson for De Beers Canada said the company has been transparent with its data.

Mercury and its highly toxic relative, methylmercury, can pose a danger to fish, animals and humans if it builds up in waterways.

Since mining activity can trigger mercury pollution, the Ontario government requires De Beers to self-monitor and report on the mercury and methylmercury levels found in creeks near the open-pit Victor mine — requirements the company says it has followed.

But after studying the diamond mine and its reporting system, Wildlands League has maintained that De Beers didn't report on the mercury levels from all its water monitoring stations.

Though the group says it has received some additional information from the diamond company since raising the matter a year ago, Wildlands League says it is still missing the full picture.

"The self-monitoring experiment isn't working as it should," says Anna Baggio of the Wildlands League. And the government, she says, is "failing to provide proper oversight."

She adds: "If Ontario isn't going to enforce its own laws, then that's why we felt we had to act."

Wildlands League notified the company Monday it has filed a private prosecution alleging that De Beers violated a condition of its agreement with the province when it did not report on the mercury levels at five of nine water monitoring stations near the mine.

In an email, a spokesperson from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change says the ministry will review the details of the legal action.

The ministry also says De Beers is subject to "strict and detailed terms and conditions" surrounding the reporting and monitoring at the mine, and that the ministry worked with the company "to implement a compliance program."

The Victor Mine is currently the only diamond mine operating in Ontario, though De Beers has been exploring other projects in the area.

With the promise of potentially huge mineral deposits in the region known as the Ring of Fire, the region is expected to open up to far more mining operations down the road.

Previous prosecutions

Baggio says Canadians should be concerned about the way governments oversee these projects.

When it comes to monitoring for toxic pollution like mercury, she says, "governments do not have a handle on this."

Ecojustice, the Canadian environmental law group representing Wildlands League, has filed private prosecutions relating to environmental pollution in the past.

In 2009, the group represented an Alberta citizen in a legal action against oil company Syncrude after numerous ducks died from landing in a Fort McMurray tailings pond.

In this case, De Beers has been ordered to appear Jan. 12 at the Ontario Court of Justice, Old City Hall, in Toronto.

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