Dr. Gilles Wendling will be leading discussions on the cumulative effects of heap leach mining in four Yukon communities in the first week of May. (Submitted)

Dr. Gilles Wendling will be leading discussions on the cumulative effects of heap leach mining in four Yukon communities in the first week of May. (Submitted)

Heap-leaching seminar by hydro-geologist touring Yukon

Dr. Gilles Wendling will lead discussions in Whitehorse, Dawson, Mayo and Pelly Crossing.

A group of Yukoners concerned with the prevalence of cyanide heap-leaching in Yukon mines has invited a hydro-geologist from British Columbia to lead a discussion on the possible cumulative effects of the process.

Dr. Gilles Wendling from Nanaimo, B.C., will be presenting in Whitehorse, Mayo, Dawson City and Pelly Crossing in the first week of May.

Wendling has worked in the field of groundwater and watershed management for the past 30 years, first for mining and oil and gas companies and then under the consultancy he started that largely works with First Nations governments to protect water quality.

He said his presentations will describe the process of heap leaching, by which mined ore is sprayed with a cyanide solution that extracts precious metals, and the possible cumulative effects of its use and mitigation measures. It will also detail the use of the process in the Yukon, in mines that are now out of production, mines that are currently operating and mines that are going through the approval process.

Wendling said to demonstrate the possible cumulative effects of the mining process he will draw on the case study of a closed mine near Hedley, B.C., where cyanide was found present in groundwater 30 metres below its heap leach facility. The talk will also deal with Yukon examples including the Brewery Creek Mine and Newmont’s proposed Coffee Gold project.

He will also discuss the financial security furnished by mining companies to cover the cleanup of contaminated sites which he says is often inadequate, given the length of time remediation and cleanup work at the sites must go on.

Wendling is skeptical of any claim that the heap leech facilities are 100 per cent sealed and able to stop the escape of the cyanide solution and other potentially harmful substances that are released from the ore, particularly given how liners and pipes can degrade over time.

He said the situation in the Yukon is unique because it is one of the few places on earth that remains largely untouched and in a wild state but also has mining as a major part of its history.

“What is not being considered by the Yukon government are the cumulative effects of using huge quantities of lethal cyanide on one-kilometre square pads located next to the Yukon River and other water sources. There seems to be no attention to the fact that the waste from cyanide heap leaching mines will be permanently stored on the land and can be a long-term source of land and water pollution,” said Don Roberts, the chair of Yukoners Concerned, the organization that has invited Wendling to speak in the territory.

Wendlings presentations will be held at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse on May 2, the Mayo Community Hall on May 3, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Community Hall on May 4 and the Pelly Crossing Community Hall on May 5. All the talks begin at 7 p.m.

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com