Keno health study met with skepticism

Keno City residents face no immediate dangers from metal contaminants detected in the groundwater surrounding the community, according to a government report released on Wednesday.

Keno City residents face no immediate dangers from metal contaminants detected in the groundwater surrounding the community, according to a government report released on Wednesday.

But the report, which concedes that more monitoring needs to be done to rule out possible health hazards, is small comfort to present and former residents.

“It’s a whitewash as expected,” said Insa Schultenkotter.

“They point out that the data they have is inadequate, but then they turn around and say ‘don’t worry everything is fine.’ How can you do that?” she asked.

Frustrated with the Yukon government’s handling of the situation, Schultenkotter and her husband Bob Wagner have moved to Atlin, B.C. but still own property in Keno City.

Several residents who remain in Keno expressed similar feelings, but they asked not to be named, for fear of upsetting Alexco Resources, the company that is extracting silver from the district’s historic complex of mines.

The health impact study compiled and examined data from March through August, 2012. It focused on the health effects from airborne exposure to six metals: arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese, strontium and zinc, as well as cadmium and zinc in the groundwater.

Health effects of these airborne particles can include cardiovascular damage, asthma, bronchitis, lung damage, cancer and eye irritation. High levels of cadmium and zinc has been linked to gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting and kidney damage.

“All of this is precautionary,” said Dr. Brendan Hanley, the Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, at a press conference on Wednesday.

“Despite the concern and the complexity of heavy mining, there aren’t any signals coming out that there is existing danger or that the water is contaminated or that the amount of dust is hazardous. It’s just that we don’t feel, through the report, that we have enough data points and monitoring evidence to rule out risk.”

Alexco supports the report’s findings and wants to ensure the safety of residents near its mining operations, said Brad Thrall, the company’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.“It is prudent to do some additional monitoring in Keno City. It’s because of our presence and activities that the Onek 400 contamination was first discovered.”

Onek 400 is an abandoned mine shaft full of water close to local residents.

“We certainly have a pretty robust monitoring program in place now,” said Thrall. “It is increasing. We have six dust monitoring stations, noise monitoring stations, very extensive groundwater monitoring on a monthly basis,”

But the company’s critics aren’t buying it.

“I don’t believe it, absolutely not,” said Schultenkotter. “For someone who has a little bit of knowledge and to read this, you just shake your head.”

She and other residents have pointed to what they see as contradictions and flaws in the report based on the scarcity of data in some areas.

“They’re focusing on the water and the air, which lacks a lot of data.” she said.“There’s way more involved, and the report kind of points it out,” Schultenkotter also worries that the data studied for the report may be biased because it was collected by Access Consulting, a subsidiary of Alexco.

But Hanley was adamant that the results of the report, which was prepared by Calgary-based Habitat Health Impact Consulting, are valid.

“This was not done for industry.” said Hanley. “This was done at my request.”

“The lab testing itself was not independent. What they (Keno residents) had asked for was another opinion on the existing lab information from the monitoring,” he said.

Along with increased monitoring, the report recommends identifying a backup emergency water source in case the town’s main source of potable water, the Firehall well, becomes compromised. It also suggests using “commonsense public health interventions” as precautionary measures.

That includes using raised garden beds, not using surface water for gardens, and hand washing after contact with groundwater, said Hanley.

Millie said he took samples from the water plant himself in July and August and sent them to Mining Watch Canada for analysis. The results noted a spike in contaminants, but that more data is needed before conclusions can be drawn.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Hanley reiterated that spikes in contamination levels like the ones from this summer are inconclusive without more data, which is why the report recommends increasing monitoring.

Health impact assessments, such as what’s being done in Keno, are a relatively new tool and this is the first time one has been carried out in the territory, said Hanley.

Hanley also said he’d like to see this type of impact assessment used during the planning of some projects in the future.

“This was a fairly formal, fairly lengthy health impact assessment.“he said. “I don’t think that’s necessary for every project,”

Contact Jesse Winter at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The primary goal of the new relief package for tourism operators is to support the tourism sector, whether they’re private industry or not-for-profit organizations, said Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie McLean. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Relief program offers funds for businesses that rely on tourists for more than half their revenue

Two new streams of funding, in addition to the accommodation relief program, were announced

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: Climate emergency, lite edition

Back in September 2019, Whitehorse City Council declared a climate emergency, to… Continue reading

Yukon Employees’ Union says a lack of staff training and high turnover at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter is creating a dangerous situation for underpaid workers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Employees’ Union says lack of training at emergency shelter leading to unsafe situations

Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost said the staffing policy “is evolving”

Justice Karen Wenckebach will begin serving as resident judge on the Yukon Supreme Court early next year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
All-female justice roster ‘a good step’ for diversity in Yukon Supreme Court

Karen Wenckebach is the third woman appointed to the Yukon Supreme Court in history

The Liberal government blocked a motion by Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers that would have asked the federal government to provide the territories with more than a per capita amount of COVID-19 vaccine doses during initial distribution. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Party says a per capita distribution of vaccines would leave Yukon short

The opposition is also asking the government to release their plan for vaccine distribution

A sign outside the Yukon Inn Convention Centre indicates Yukoners can get a flu vaccine inside. As of Dec. 4, the vaccinations won’t be available at the convention centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse Convention Centre ends flu vaccination service early

Flu vaccinations won’t be available at the Whitehorse Convention Centre after Dec.… Continue reading

COMMENTARY: Land use planning must include industry

Carl Schulze Special to the News This commentary is a response to… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Nominations continue to be open for Northern Tutchone members of the White River First Nation to run for councillors in the 2021 election. (Maura Forrest/Yukon News File)
White River First Nation to elect new chief and council

Nominations continue to be open for Northern Tutchone members of the White… Continue reading

The Town of Watson Lake has elected John Devries as a new councillor in a byelection held Dec. 3. (Wikimedia Commons)
Watson Lake elects new councillor

The Town of Watson Lake has elected John Devries as a new… Continue reading

The new Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation council elected Dec. 1. (Submitted)
Little Salmon Carmacks elects new chief, council

Nicole Tom elected chief of Little Salmon Carcmacks First Nation

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Most Read