Author: (Contaminants & Remediation Directorate)
Date: (Janurary 2006)
PDF Version (183 Kb, 10 pages)
The former Port Radium mine, located on the northeast shore of Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories, operated as a radium and uranium mine from 1931-1960. The Dene people who lived around Great Bear Lake provided support services for the mine and assisted in the transportation of radium and uranium ore and other goods to and from the site. In the 1980s, people in Deline began to learn about the damage to human and environmental health that can be caused by radium and uranium mining. Community members began to fear for the safety of their environment and traditional foods. The belief that radium and uranium exposure caused cancer in Deline became prevalent in the community.
The Canada-Deline Uranium Table (CDUT) was formed by the Deline First Nation and the federal government in 1999 to address concerns about the human health and environmental impacts of Port Radium. In 2000, the CDUT, community members and experts from various fields contributed to the development of a three-year Action Plan; this document identified studies and activities that, when completed, would provide the information necessary to enable the community of Deline and the federal government to make informed decisions about the Port Radium mine site and any community health issues relating to the mine.
This final report of the CDUT describes the studies and activities that were carried out during Action Plan implementation, and presents all associated findings and recommendations. The summary below follows the same sequence as the full report; each section contains a brief outline of key findings, followed by a complete list of recommendations. For more detailed descriptions of projects, activities and findings, please refer to the corresponding chapter in the Final Report.
Role of Traditional Knowledge (TK)
Several TK projects were carried out to gather information from Deline elders and community members who lived and worked at Port Radium and transportation route sites. This information supported other human health and environmental studies. In particular, information about employment and land use during the mining period was critical in the reconstruction of historical radiation exposures and was unavailable through other sources.
A team of community researchers underwent extensive training to do the fieldwork for these projects, in order to ensure that collected data was recorded, translated and transcribed accurately. TK studies were very effective in involving community members as active participants in the CDUT research process.
The capacity-building that took place during Action Plan implementation represents a major achievement of the CDUT. Thirty-two Deline community members were employed at various times and in various capacities by the CDUT.
Although long-term employment was most effective in developing skills and generating commitment among employees, project-based and part-time employment maximized the number of community members who were involved in the project overall. Community based research and activities (TK, communications) provided more opportunities for community involvement and capacity development than scientific studies. Lack of formal accreditation for training and skill development was recognized as a weakness of capacity-building efforts.
The CDUT initiated productive communication between Deline and Canada on issues related to the Port Radium mine. The CDUT recognized the importance of communications to its mandate, and used a variety of methods to keep Deline community members updated on CDUT research and activities.
According to a survey of Deline community members, the most effective methods of communication about CDUT research and activities were (in order): workshops and public events, the Deline Uranium Team (DUT) newsletter and word of mouth (the DUT refers to staff employed by Deline First Nation for the CDUT, based in the community of Deline). CDUT staff learned that accurate translation is very important when discussing scientific and technical projects, and that different age groups require different methods of communications.
A large volume of information was collected by the CDUT during four years of Action Plan implementation. The hiring and training of a full-time data manager in Deline was necessary for efficient organization and easy local access to the material. The photo database, library, audio-video collection and oral history collection comprise an important archive about Port Radium and related topics for the community of Deline
Part of the mandate given by the Action Plan was to gather all known information about the mine and its operations. A team of consultants was selected by the CDUT to carry out this project. There are no recommendations specifically associated with this project; the findings listed below have been selected or developed from the Fact Finder report and are considered most pertinent to the CDUT mandate. Please refer to Chapter 3 for a complete list of study findings.
A variety of human health studies were carried out to assess current and historical impacts of Port Radium on the health of the Deline community. Some study findings also pertain to overall health and health care.
The community health needs assessment identified a number of broad organizational and service delivery issues, including insufficient community participation and cultural sensitivity in the development and delivery of health policies and programs. Consultants also noted that health promotion activities and disease management services were minimal. Concerns about inadequate staffing at the health centre were frequently expressed by community members. A key finding of the community health profile was that the overall cancer rates for Deline are not statistically significantly different from the Northwest Territories (NWT). However researchers acknowledged that cancer statistics should be interpreted cautiously because of gaps in the NWT cancer registry prior to 1990 and the small populations in both Deline and the NWT. Despite this finding, community-based health studies determined that cancer is the predominant health concern in Déli˜ne.Many community members feel that cancer services in Déli˜ne, including detection, treatment and support services, are seriously deficient.
Community-based health studies demonstrated that fear and anxiety about the human health and environmental impacts of Port Radium have severely affected the community of DelineAnalysis of collected oral histories showed that the majority of significant past and present health problems within the community continue to be strongly associated with perceived environmental threats. The perceptual link between exposure to mining activities and illness and death has affected people's sense of harmony with nature, which is a crucial component of their cultural identity.
The psychologist who conducted mental health assessments in the community concluded that the psychological impacts of Port Radium have resulted in low morale and diminished community and personal identity. She also found that many elders suffered from feelings of isolation and depression, often because illness or disability had restricted their quality of life, and thus were not able to fulfill their role as advisors and leaders to younger people. These factors, exacerbated by the premature loss of many elders, have led to a loss of sense of community in Déli˜ne.
A detailed dose reconstruction was carried out to estimate historical radiation exposures to ore transport workers and their families. The average dose estimated for ore transport workers was 76mSv/y. Radiation doses to family members who lived near Port Radium or along the transportation route were estimated to be similar in magnitude to background doses. The epidemiology feasibility study predicted that theoretically, due to the radiation doses calculated in the dose reconstruction, 1 or 2 cancer deaths would be expected among the 35 ore transport workers, in addition to the 9 or 10 cancer deaths that would ”normally” be expected in a similar, non-exposed group of 35 people. A full epidemiology study of former ore transport workers was not recommended for the following reasons: it would be difficult to establish an accurate baseline reference rate; the predicted number of excess cancer deaths due to radiation exposure is relatively small and; the small sample size (35) limits the likelihood of a statistically significant outcome.
It is not possible to know for certain if the illness or death of any individual ore carrier was directly caused by radiation exposure, due to the small number of predicted excess cancers and the presence of other risk factors. The risk of radiation-related cancer to family members is small compared to the increased risk to ore carriers, and for both groups the risk of radiation-related cancers is not much greater than ”normal” cancer risk.
Recommended programs include:
The psychological and social impacts of Port Radium have been particularly damaging to the community of DelineTo address these impacts, the CDUT conducted community healing programs in Deline
Healing activities that focused on the affirmation of Dene culture and identity (e.g. traditional activities, healing journeys) were very successful. These healing strategies had the greatest influence on the Deline community and helped people to begin regaining collective feelings of confidence and optimism. Healing journeys on the land were particularly effective in beginning to restore people's security in their environment and fostering social cohesion.
People who attended the workshops and public information sessions were eager to learn more about mental and physical health issues. The provision of educational opportunities allowed people to gain insights into their own health and wellbeing.
For many years, the people of Deline did not receive appropriate information about the potential risks of their exposure to mine-related contaminants, which compounded the anxiety experienced by community members. The mistrust of government officials and scientists that developed over the years was expressed many times during healing activities and public meetings. The desire for public recognition from the federal government for the contribution of Deline Dene people to the Port Radium mine, and the legacy that this involvement has had on the community, has been strongly expressed by community members. It appears that this would be a potentially significant contributor to the healing process.
Environmental studies were conducted to determine the impacts of the Port Radium mine site on people and the environment. Based on the findings of these studies, a remediation plan for the Port Radium site was developed. Key findings from the environmental studies program are presented below, followed by a summary of the remediation plan and overall recommendations. Please refer to the Port Radium Remediation Plan for a detailed description of planned cleanup activities.
Study findings indicate that the site has had, and continues to have, impacts on the water quality on the mine site and in Great Bear Lake immediately adjacent to the site. Great Bear Lake water samples taken around the site show that in general, the closer the sample was taken to the shore, the higher the metal concentrations. However, the metal and radionuclide levels in Great Bear Lake adjacent to the site are below levels that could adversely affect fish or any other aquatic life. Samples taken from areas not expected to be impacted by the mine site show that the overall water quality in Great Bear Lake is good.
On the mine site, the water contained within the buried tailings is the most contaminated, yet fairly inaccessible to animals and immobile. The surface water and runoff on site, which is intermittent and seasonal, is less contaminated, but well above guidelines for some metals.
Mapping of the lakebed around Port Radium identified several general areas where tailings are located in the immediate vicinity of the mine site, as well as in a trough approximately 500 metres northwest of Murphy Bay which appears to be a repository for tailings. The regional and detailed bathymetric survey indicates that the tailings are located in the deeper parts of Great Bear Lake near the site from which they are extremely unlikely to move.
The results of the soil sampling program show elevated metal levels in mine-impacted areas. Soil samples showed significant differences between the tailings/waste rock sites and non-impacted sites, particularly for uranium, chromium and arsenic. Radionuclides in soils showed the same general spatial trends that were found with metals. Metal concentrations in plants followed similar trends to soils, with the highest concentrations found in the Cobalt Channel drainage area.
The environmental radiation findings showed that gamma radiation is the largest contributor to radiation doses at the mine site. Air quality at the Port Radium site is relatively clean and not impacted by local site conditions. The analysis confirms that dust levels are extremely low and not an issue of concern for the site.
The ecological risk assessment for radiation exposures from internal and external doses found that the radionuclides present at the Port Radium mine site are not a cause for concern from an ecological perspective.
Arsenic, copper and uranium levels in water overlying tailings in the McDonough Lake Tailings Containment Area (TCA) were greater than the toxicity benchmarks for some aquatic life. It should be noted that there is no outflow from McDonough Lake into Great Bear Lake so the effects on aquatic life, if any, are restricted to the McDonough Lake TCA.
Arsenic was identified as a potential issue for three animals (fox, duck and hare). The primary exposure pathways were attributed to consumption of contaminated vegetation and associated soil. Elevated concentrations of cobalt and uranium in the localized areas of the Cobalt drainage, Murphy Tailings and the exposed tailings near Murphy Bay are a cause for potential concern for local species such as the hare.
Even though caribou would only be present at the site for a minimal time period, they were included in the assessment as they are an important source of food for Dene people. The assessment determined that there are no adverse impacts to caribou using the site.
Scenarios were developed for hypothetical land use situations for the assessment of potential health risks to people from Déline, or others, who visit the site.
To this end, the following situations were considered:
For radiation exposure, the assessment showed that a seasonal camper (the highest exposure scenario) would not exceed the guidelines established by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) for the protection of human health. Predicted metals intakes were within the acceptable intake levels for all contaminants of potential concern. Therefore, it has been concluded that the presence of radionuclides and metals at the Port Radium mine site are not a cause for concern under the exposure scenarios described above for campers, fishermen or others, who might occasionally visit the site.
Results of this study agree with other studies from around Great Bear Lake and the NWT and show that traditional foods are safe to eat. Sampling of traditional foods and the risk assessment study both showed that it is safe for people to consume traditional foods taken from Port Radium, and safe to drink water taken from Great Bear Lake at Port Radium.
Levels of radiation exposure through a diet of traditional foods in Deline is the same as other areas of the NWT and at levels much lower than what could cause human health effects. There are low levels of natural and man-made radionuclides in all food items. Both radium-226 and uranium, two of the major concerns at Port Radium, are at very low levels in all samples from mammals, birds and fish.
|Site Issues||Preferred Remediation Method|
|Access to the Underground||Mine openings||Vertical surface openings will be sealed with a concrete cap/or plugged, horizontal openings will be rock sealed. Where such is not possible the area will be fenced.|
|Site Infrastructure and Potential Physical Hazards||Concrete Foundations, Walls and Slabs||Where accessible, vertical structures will be demolished and slabs on grade will be covered. All other remaining structures will be left as they are to naturally erode.|
|Dock Areas||Docking areas will be removed and left with a more stable, natural slope. Potential sediment impacts to the water will be minimized during cleanup.|
|Roads||Roads will be left to naturally re-vegetate. Where radiation levels are above 250µR/hr they will be covered.|
|Airstrip||No remediation of the airstrip is planned.|
|Miscellaneous Equipment||Drain engine fuels and dispose of equipment on site unless equipment is valuable and can be easily removed from site in a safe manner.|
|Miscellaneous Scrap||Pick up and dispose of on site.|
|Wood Frame Structures||All structures (Cross Fault Lake Head-frame, wooden sheds, cabins and the wooden ”Mountie Cabin”) will be demolished.|
|Contaminated Areas, Chemical and Radiological Concerns||Site Drainage||Protect small terrestrial animals from ingesting metals by putting a layer of coarse rock over identified surface drainage routes and removing all exposed tailings where water drainage flows through. Monitor as part of long-term monitoring program.|
|Elevated Gamma Radiation||Cover accessible areas with approximately 0.5m of native cover material where gamma radiation levels exceed 250µR/h. The cover will reduce these areas to below 100µR/h. Therefore, the maximum gamma level in accessible areas will be less than 250µR/h.|
|McDonough Lake TCA||Monitor water level and quality as part of long-term monitoring plan.|
|Silver Point TCA||Fill in surface ponds with tailings or native material and cover entire TCA with a clay/bentonite liner which will eliminate slumping and reduce metal loading in Great Bear Lake. Native fill and a protective cap will be placed above the impermeable liner.|
|Murphy TCA||Relocate exposed tailings into local depression and cover with native fill materials.|
|Radium (North and South) TCAs||Tailings are stable, vegetation is clean and radiation levels are at background. No physical remedial actions required however, monitoring will continue to ensure conditions remain the same.|
|Murphy Bay Hillside Exposed Tailings||Difficult to access area. Will be left undisturbed and flat lying tailings will be covered with native cover material.|
|West Adit/ Plant Area Exposed Tailings||Excavate and dispose of exposed tailings in a containment area such as: Murphy, Silver Point or McDonough TCA.|
|Tailings in Great Bear Lake||Leave undisturbed and continue monitoring water quality and health of fish|
|Fuel Storage Areas||Will be covered or remain covered by rock.|
|Hazardous Materials||If encountered, remove off-site for disposal.|