The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board says over 200 people may have been exposed to lead at the Sa Dena Hes mine site near Watson Lake.
Richard Mostyn, spokesperson for the board, called it the “largest Yukon workplace occupational exposure investigation in recent memory.”
The investigation began in July after Occupational Health and Safety learned workers at the site had been exposed to high concentrations of lead.
A stop-work order was issued July 17 and work on a large portion of the site was allowed to resume two days later, after safety measures were put into place.
The mill site remained shut down for an additional four days.
To date, the board has received 171 employer reports of injury.
It’s estimated that 219 people worked and visited the site around that time. The board is still in the process of getting blood samples from these workers to determine their degree of exposure to lead.
The board has received 86 blood samples so far, but Mostyn said he couldn’t say how many of them were deemed to be high.
In July, 10 workers at the site were diagnosed with lead poisoning.
Mostyn said he doesn’t know if that number had increased since then or whether the lead was inhaled or ingested.
“We’re continuing the process of gathering information.”
Chris Stannell, a spokesperson for Teck Resources, said lead exposure levels at the site in 2014 “were found to be well within guidelines.”
But according to soil sample results obtained by Teck in Sept. 2013 and available on the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources website, lead levels were above standards set by the Contaminated Sites Regulations of the Yukon Environment Act.
Mostyn said the board has only received 27 worker reports of injury since last summer.
There are a lot of reasons why workers don’t submit injury reports, he said.
Workers have up to two years file a claim with the board.
A claim can only be filed once the employer, worker and injury reports have been submitted, Mostyn said.
“Once we get all that information we also get an idea of how extensive the problems were there,” he said.
The site, covering approximately 5,600 hectares, was a lead-zinc mine that operated for 16 months between Aug. 1991 and Dec. 1992.
Clean-up work at the site began last year and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2015, according to Teck Resources, which is handling the work.
Stannell said there is currently no work taking place at the site.
According to Health Canada, some early symptoms of lead poisoning include headaches, irritability, abdominal pain and weight loss. Too much exposure to lead in adults can damage the brain and nervous system, the stomach and the kidneys.
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