I am the mayor of the small community of Buchans in central Newfoundland.
Buchans is a former mining community with a present population of 750 residents.
For more than 60 years my community was the site of one of the largest base-metal mining operations in North America.
At peak production, the Buchans Mine employed 550 workers and, during the working life of the mine, which was operated by a joint partnership of ASARCO and Abitibi, over 17 million tonnes of copper, lead, and zinc ore was processed before closure in 1984.
I write in reaction to news of a proposed new base-metal mining venture near the tiny hamlet of Keno City in the Yukon.
I was intrigued to find many similarities between the history of Keno City and my own hometown of Buchans.
I must admit, however, that I am shocked to learn that the new mine proposed for Keno City will operate a mill on the doorstep of the small community and actually intends to dry-stack tailings at that site.
If I might, may I please offer a synopsis of my own community’s experience with base-metal tailings.
The tailings from the ASARCO operation were stored in settling ponds virtually within the community.
The rationale, of course, was that if stored under water and not exposed to wind and air, the tailings residue could be maintained as harmless.
The problem is, of course, that pond levels advance and recede as weather, particularly rainfall amounts, varies.
The result being that, at times over the years, exposed tailings residue would be carried down over the community in what, in winter, residents called black snow.
Buchans, however, was a company town and, over the life of the mine, no resident worker ever dared question the potential health consequences of this exposure and certainly the company made no effort to advise residents of any potential health risk.
As I have said, the Buchans Mine closed in 1984 and in the 25 years since closure, Abitibi tinkered with a mine-closure program that paid some attention to environmental issues that might impact birds or fish or the like.
Approximately three years ago, the residents, through their town council, demanded to know the analysis that had been undertaken since closure to address the potential health impact of dust and soil contamination on the human population.
We were astounded to learn that in 25 years no health-risk analysis has been carried out.
They claimed to not know what was in the soil and dust and therefore had no idea as to the impact on human health.
Recently, the heavy-metal composition and health analysis demanded by residents has begun and the results indicate that our community has sites with 60 times the accepted level of cadmium, 30 times the Canadian accepted level of arsenic, and 30 times the accepted level of lead.
Residents believe that much of this is tailings contamination carried over the community by prevailing winds for decades.
We are presently trying to grapple with the potential health consequences as we attempt to have company and government implement a full-scale remediation plan.
If I may return to Keno City with its small population of, I am told, 30 people, I might suggest that the notion of dry-stacking base-metal tailings on the doorstep of the town terrifies me.
My background is not in mining, but as mayor and a resident of Buchans I believe that we will likely never know the full health impact of long-term exposure to heavy metal tailings on our community and we had the perfect disposal method: submersion under water.
Dry-stacking in the vicinity of the community seems like an ill-conceived plan at best.
Our experience has taught the residents of Buchans to use this rule when evaluating such a tailings disposal scheme and, for that matter, all industrial-development schemes: Eould this proposal, to dry-stack contaminated base metal tailings be acceptable on the doorstep of Calgary, or Vancouver or Whitehorse?
The acceptability of potential health risks that relate to mining should not be determined by the size of the population impacted.
The potential for serious health consequences for the 30 residents of Keno City cannot be seen as less important than the same health consequences for a million living in metropolitan Toronto.
Thank God, Canada is a country where the health of every individual is seen as equally important.
If dry-stacking potentially harmful base-metal tailings would be unacceptable in Mississauga,S then it cannot be seen as appropriate in Keno City.
The residents of Toronto would insist that there must be a better way.
So must there be a better way for Keno City.
The people of Buchans wish our 30 friends in Keno City all the best and hope that the road you travel will not be similar to our own.
Derm Corbett, mayor