Frequently Asked Questions
We have included some of the most commonly asked questions at public information sessions and community visits. Please don't hesitate to contact us should you not find an answer to your question in this section of the website.
Air Quality Monitoring
About the Giant Mine air quality monitors
Q. Why is the air around Giant Mine being monitored?
A: Giant Mine's Air Quality Monitoring Program provides data to ensure that remediation activities at Giant Mine do not cause adverse effects to people or the environment. A robust environmental monitoring program is an integral part of the Giant Mine Remediation Project to ensure the safety of Northerners and the environment.
Q. How many and where are the air quality monitors located?
A: There are air quality monitors in the nearby communities, around the perimeter of the Giant Mine site (also called the "fenceline"), and around specific site activities.
This site-wide air quality monitoring program provides real-time air quality data related to onsite activities, and ensures that residents are not exposed to unacceptable levels of contaminants from the activities occurring at the Giant Mine site.
The monitors in the communities and at Giant Mine's fenceline are, together, referred to as the "site-wide" network; while another set of monitors is placed around specific areas of on-site work and is referred to as the "activity-specific" network.
- Giant Mine Fenceline Stations
- Six fenceline monitors placed around the Giant Mine site run continuously during on-site work hours (approximately 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday from spring/summer to fall/winter). These monitors check TSP and PM10 concentrations around the perimeter of the mine site.
- Community Stations
- Three community stations are located at the Yellowknife Cruising Club, in N'dilo, and near downtown Yellowknife. These monitors measure and assess air quality in the community and help to ensure the effectiveness of the fenceline program.
- Activity-Specific Network
- A number of stations monitor onsite activities to assist in deciding what, if any, mitigation measures are required to control dust in active work areas. The exact number of monitors varies according to active work. Some of these monitors are fixed in place, while others are moved around based on wind direction. To date, monitored activities have included the Roaster Deconstruction Project (June 2013-present) and the Underground Stabilization Project (July 2014-present).
Q. What do the monitors do?
A: The monitors provide air quality data related to on-site activities. This data helps the Giant Mine Remediation Project Team to:
- Monitor concentrations of airborne contaminants
- Assess potential effects on the local air
- Establish whether these contaminants are the result of activities at the Giant Mine site
- Determine whether mitigation measures are required.
Q. How do the fenceline monitors help keep us safe?
A: Giant Mine’s air quality monitoring program provides data to assist in the protection of people and the environment during remediation work at the mine site. If an on-site air monitor detects an unusual spike in airborne dust levels, site personnel take action, such as watering to suppress dust at site or stopping the work. These actions help to prevent dust from reaching nearby communities.
Q. How do the community monitors keep us safe?
A: The community monitors are used to verify the effectiveness of the fenceline monitors. When contaminant readings at the community monitors stay within acceptable limits, air quality in the community is within acceptable air quality criteria set by health and environmental experts.
Monitoring Air Quality at Giant Mine
Q. What contaminants at the site should the public be aware of?
A: Through its Air Quality Monitoring program, the Giant Mine Remediation Project Team measures concentrations of airborne contaminants such as arsenic trioxide dust, asbestos, antimony, iron, lead, nickel, and airborne dust, including total suspended particulate (TSP), particulate matter 10 (PM10) and particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), in order to take action to avoid impact on human health or on the environment.
Q. What is "respirable dust"?
A: Respirable dust is fine airborne particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Examples include wood smoke, pollen, hair, fibres, and road dust.
Q. What is particle matter 10 (PM10) and what is particle matter 2.5 (PM2.5)?
A: PM10 and PM2.5 are types of airborne respirable particles. They are named according to their size, which is measured in microns. PM10 has diameter of 10 microns (µm) or less and PM2.5 has a diameter of 2.5 microns or less. PM2.5 is often present when something is burning.
A micron measures one-millionth of a metre, an extremely small unit of length. A single micron of any substance is so small it is scarcely visible; the average human hair, for example, is about 100 microns wide.
Airborne particulate doesn’t necessarily contain arsenic trioxide or other mining by-products. If inhaled, however, particles of 10 microns or smaller (PM10) themselves may pass through protective hairs in the nose and deep into the lower area of the lungs, causing adverse effects on human health, including reduced heart or lung function.
Q. What is TSP? How is TSP different from PM10 or PM2.5?
A: TSP stands for "total suspended particulate". This is the amount of airborne dust with particles measuring 100 microns or less in diameter. For this reason, PM10 and PM2.5 are types of TSP. By determining the amount of airborne dust, TSP serves as an indicator of overall air quality.
Sources of TSP include construction activities, vehicle emissions, road dust, and incineration. Therefore, TSP includes both respirable dust particles as well as larger dust particles that are more easily removed by the body’s protective systems. (Depending on its contents, TSP may or may not cause adverse health effects.) If the TSP mostly contains larger particles, it is not considered a significant health risk as these can be removed by the body’s protective systems. However, if the TSP contains a large amount of respirable particles such as PM10 and PM2.5, it has the potential to cause greater adverse health effects.
Q. How do TSP and PM10 work together to tell us about our air quality?
A: TSP is an indicator of total particulate in the air; PM10 is the fraction of that particulate that can be inhaled into the lungs. While TSP provides an indication of overall air quality, PM10 indicates more specifically the presence of particles with the potential to cause significant adverse health effects.
Responding to any High Contaminant Concentrations
Q. The weekly air quality monitoring summary says that 333 µ/m3 is the Risk Based Action Limit (RBAL) for TSP. What does the measurement 333 µ/m3 mean?
A: TSP is measured in microns per cubic metre, or µ/m3. Some amount of TSP in the air is normal, so the monitors are set to look for spikes in their readings. The Giant Mine Remediation Project Team is notified when TSP or PM10 levels meet or surpass 333µ/m3, a predetermined level known as the action level. This level was set in accordance with Health Canada criteria. This level indicates the point at which action, and if necessary, mitigative measures, are taken until the elevated concentrations are reduced below the action levels. Mitigative measures may include:
- dust suppression activities such as watering and calcium chloride application
- modifying or stopping work activities
Q. How does the Giant Mine Remediation Project Team know whether the dust is coming from the Giant Mine site?
A: The fenceline and activity-specific monitors alert the Giant Mine Remediation Project Team whenever TSP or PM10 levels meet or surpass a predetermined level called the action level. Similarly, the community monitors alert the project team whenever measurements surpass the 24-hour criteria for airborne particulate derived by the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Environment (Ontario standards are applied as they are the most comprehensive standards in Canada). This information confirms the fenceline program is properly monitoring air quality.
When the project team is alerted, it takes immediate steps to determine whether the dust is related to activities at Giant Mine and if so, whether it needs to take action to reduce or eliminate the dust.
Q. How does the Giant Mine Remediation Project Team know whether the dust is coming from the Giant Mine site?
A: If a monitor indicates dust levels are approaching either the action level or the 24-hour criteria, the project team checks the site-wide system, examines site activities, and considers wind direction and speed to determine whether the dust is coming from Giant Mine. The project team also considers questions such as, "Is there any visible dust on site?", "Are any ongoing site activities potentially producing dust?", "Are the monitors working properly?", and "Is there something else in the air, such as smoke or ice fog that may have triggered the alarm?"
Q. Can air quality be affected by external factors that are not related to Giant Mine?
A: Occasionally, smoke from forest fires, road dust, and ice fog have caused the fenceline monitors to reach the action level. Whenever monitors surpass a certain point, site personnel investigate, looking for the cause of the elevated reading. Personnel conduct visual checks, review on-site activities, and consider wind strength and direction, and other environmental factors to determine the cause of the monitors’ readings.
During periods of extremely smoky conditions due to external factors such as forest fires, the project team is even more vigilant than usual in watching for dust generation and implementing dust prevention.
Q. When monitors approach action level, what actions can be taken?
A: Whenever TSP or PM10 levels meet or surpass the predetermined action level, actions may include:
- Informing all members of the Giant Mine Remediation Project Team about air quality monitor data and wind conditions;
- Watering roadways and the ground around deconstruction area to control dust;
- Reducing or suspending work activities
Q. How are the contaminants contained in the dust determined?
A: Samples are collected from community monitoring stations every three days. The Giant Mine Remediation Project Team sends these samples to a lab and has them analyzed for such things as iron, nickel, lead, antimony, arsenic, and asbestos, in addition to TSP and PM10. Results take approximately two weeks to process and are included in the weekly Air Quality Monitoring reports available on the NWT Air Quality Monitoring Network.
Q. How would you inform people in the event of something happening on site that could put them at risk?
A: Air quality data from the community based locations is provided in live format on the Government of the Northwest Territories air monitoring website and weekly summaries from our other monitoring stations are published on the GNWT site. In the unlikely event that an immediate, urgent risk is identified, communications would be managed through the Project Team's Emergency Response Plan. If required, additional support would be provided by the City of Yellowknife and other first responders.
Q. What was the air quality like during the first year of work?
A: The community monitoring network indicated good air quality during the first year of remediation work in 2013. Particulate matter less than 2.5 and 10 microns, which can affect one’s health, were measured well within established guidelines with the only exceptions during periods of regional forest fires when smoke was picked up by the sensors; during high winds early in the 2014 work season when dust was picked up on the monitor closest to the south tailings pond; and spring 2014 – most likely the result of road dust in the community of Yellowknife.
Sampling at the community stations also indicated that arsenic levels were below criteria and, in most cases, too low to be measured by the laboratory. Asbestos and other elements are also measured and have been consistently below criteria. The air quality monitoring program began operating in June 2013.
Q. What is arsenic? Is it harmful?
A: Arsenic — like oxygen, copper, zinc or iron — is an element of the periodic table. It occurs naturally in the rock throughout the earth, and is toxic. However the bedrock in the Yellowknife area contains arsenopyrite, a naturally occurring mineral composed of iron, sulphur and arsenic. The arsenic that is found in the arsenopyrite is in a stable form and does not present a health hazard.
Q. What is arsenic trioxide and does it have a half-life?
A: Arsenic — like oxygen, copper, zinc or iron — is a naturally occurring element. When the ore taken from the Yellowknife area was roasted to remove the gold, the arsenic was changed into an arsenic-rich gas which combined with oxygen to form arsenic trioxide dust. Arsenic does not have a half-life, meaning it does not decay over time.
Q. How much arsenic trioxide is there at Giant Mine?
A: About 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust is stored in 15 underground chambers on the mine site. The dust stored underground is about 79% arsenic trioxide and contains other minerals such as iron, antimony and gold. The roaster at Giant Mine is no longer in use and no new arsenic trioxide has been produced since Royal Oak Mines went bankrupt in 1999.
Q. How and where is the arsenic trioxide currently stored?
A: The arsenic trioxide dust is stored in 15 mined-out chambers located in solid rock between 80 and 250 feet below the surface. The chambers are all located near the "C" shaft on the mine site. The arsenic trioxide is not in barrels, and the chambers are not under the lake or under the communities of N'Dilo, Dettah or Yellowknife.
Q. Is there arsenic trioxide in the tailings ponds?
A: There is very little arsenic trioxide in the tailings. Most of the arsenic in the tailings is in stable forms, including arsenopyrite, which is a natural arsenic-bearing mineral found in the bedrock of Yellowknife.
Q. Have there been studies on the extent of arsenic trioxide contamination on the surface at Giant Mine and in the nearby area?
A: Yes, there are several completed studies on arsenic contamination on surface. Studies are available at the Giant Mine Remediation Project's Public Registry. For more information, please call the project office at (867) 669-2426.
Q. Why not just take the arsenic out and send it back where it belongs?
A: Arsenic doesn't belong anywhere else. It's from here. The arsenic — just like the gold — originates from the local rock. After the ore was mined at Giant Mine, it was roasted to remove the gold. The arsenic, found in the mineral arsenopyrite, was transformed into an arsenic-rich gas which combined with oxygen to form arsenic trioxide dust.
Q. Why is Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada not taking the arsenic trioxide out of the mine and shipping it away?
A: This alternative was thoroughly examined by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and its Technical Advisor. It was rejected for many reasons: First, removing the dust would pose significant risks for workers, who would be mining out this highly toxic material. Second, transporting the material would seriously endanger the environment. Members of the public have told Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada that they do not want this level of risk. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and its Technical Advisor also looked at options for removing the arsenic trioxide dust and placing it in a secure landfill on the Giant Mine property. That would eliminate the problem of spills during transport, but it would mean that a permanent hazardous waste site would need to be created on the Giant Mine surface. Due to the irregular nature of the rock surrounding the storage chambers, it would be impossible to remove all of the dust. Up to several thousand tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust would likely remain underground. That would mean there would be two hazardous waste sites — one above ground, which would be a surface landfill, and one underground. In the final analysis, all of the "take-it-out" alternatives were found to pose more risks to human health and safety, and the environment, than the Frozen Block alternative.
Q. Why was Baker Creek relocated? What will it look like after the remediation is done?
A: Baker Creek was relocated many times over the course of Giant Mine's history. The latest relocation was done to prevent infiltration of creek water into the mine. Our approach for Baker Creek is one of environmental restoration. We would like to return the creek as close as possible to pre-mining conditions.
Q. Can we fish in Baker Creek? Can we drink the water from Baker Creek?
A: Baker Creek is catch and release fishing only. Eating fish from Baker Creek will likely be discouraged for many years even after the remediation is complete. It may be possible to drink water from Baker Creek many years in the future.
Q. Will there be any trees at the mine site after the remediation is finished?
A: Yes. There are plans to revegetate the approximately 95-hectares of tailings, roads and other areas with native grasses and vegetation. Trees and other plants are expected to move back into the area with time.
Q. What are the next steps for the Project Team? Will you start full remediation of the mine site?
A: The completion of many of the environmental assessment measures is a requirement before entering the regulatory process with the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. The regulatory process for a project of this scale takes time; in all likelihood, implementation of the full remediation plan is still several years away.
The Project Team will now turn its focus to completing the measures in the Environmental Assessment (EA). The team has already begun general discussions with stakeholders to prioritize the measures, and will continue to work with stakeholders and the public on the measures’ implementation. There are 26 measures in total. A document outlining these measures is available on the Mackenzie Valley Review Board’s public registry.
Once the measures have been addressed, the Project Team will submit a "consolidated project description" to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. This is a revised document describing how the EA measures will be incorporated into the remediation project plan.
The submission of the new description will resume the application process for a Water Licence and Land Use Permit (the Project Team submitted an initial application for a Water Licence in 2007). These authorizations are required before full remediation can begin.
Q. When will full remediation begin?
A: The project's start date is dependent upon the implementation of the EA measures, and the regulatory licencing process. The project team will assess implications and determine a realistic start date for full remediation once these processes have advanced.
Q. Which measures will get your first focus?
A: Given the time of year, and the limited field season, the data collection required to work through the measures will be our priority. For example, in order to complete an options analysis for Baker Creek, additional assessment is required. This options analysis will compare leaving Baker Creek on the mine site, diverting it off the mine site to a route previously considered by the Project Team, and any other reasonable options.
Stakeholders have also identified oversight negotiations as a priority and the team is prepared to move forward. These negotiations are an essential step toward creating an independent oversight body for the remediation project.
Q. How will this decision impact the project’s schedule or overall cost?
A: The Project Team did assess potential impacts to cost and timeline as a part of its analysis of the Report of EA, which was shared with all stakeholders and available on the Review Board website. Now that the decision has been made, the Project Team will focus on completing the measures and develop the consolidated Project Plan. Elements in the remediation plan are all linked and, as such, an integrated plan is essential to determining full estimates and schedule.
Q. How will the Baker Creek study be conducted?
A: The Giant Mine team will lead the Baker Creek study with input from experts in various fields, as well as stakeholders including the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Alternatives North, the North Slave Métis Alliance, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the City of Yellowknife, Environment Canada and the general public.
Q. The Project Team was given time to put together an Oversight Body. What will be involved in making that happen?
A: Consistent monitoring and evaluation is an integral part of the Giant Mine Remediation Project to ensure the safety of northerners and the environment. Discussions with stakeholders have already begun and the Project Team will continue to work toward establishing an appropriate oversight body.
Q. What is a quantitative risk assessment?
A: A quantitative risk assessment looks at possible events and evaluates them based on likelihood of occurrence versus level of environmental, social, health, or financial risk. Using this assessment, the Project Team will identify any appropriate Project or management improvements to reduce the severity of predicted risks. This assessment will be completed in consultation with stakeholders.
Q. Why is Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada going forward with the Frozen Block method?
A: Freezing the arsenic trioxide in place is the best long-term management strategy to protect Northerners and the environment. Of all the alternatives considered, it offers the least risks, including low risks to worker health and safety, low risk of arsenic release during the implementation of the management method, and low risk of arsenic release over the long term. Freezing the arsenic trioxide dust and the surrounding rock will effectively isolate the dust from the environment. There will be no seepage of water into or out of the frozen zones, and there will be no release of arsenic. This decision comes after three years of extensive scientific and technical research, and community consultation. Fifty-six management alternatives were considered; 12 were studied in detail, and finally, the Frozen Block method was selected for remediating the arsenic trioxide dust, based on scientific evidence and community input.
Q. How does the Frozen Block method work?
A: The 15 underground chambers and stopes (mined-out cavities), containing arsenic trioxide dust, will be frozen as solid, impenetrable blocks of ice. The blocks will be frozen using a cooled liquid circulated through a series of underground pipes, which will be attached to a freezing facility on the surface. The system will be very similar to the system used for indoor ice rinks. Thermosyphons will be installed to aid the freezing process and effectively maintain the frozen area indefinitely. The freezing will occur in stages over many years to make certain that the blocks are completely frozen. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will ensure that the site is safely managed throughout the entire process. More on the Frozen Block Method.
Q. How long will the frozen blocks remain frozen? What if there is a power disruption?
A: The frozen blocks should remain frozen indefinitely, because thermosyphons will be used to maintain the freezing — if there were no thermosyphons, the solid ice block would stay frozen for more than 50 years. Thermosyphons do not require electricity. Instead, they use the cold air in winter to cool the ground. As a precaution, thermometers would be used to monitor the ground and air temperatures. If thawing were to occur, the active freezing system would be used to refreeze the ground.
Q. What are thermosyphons and how do they work?
A: Thermosyphons are tall, metal tubes that draw and expel heat from the ground. They are commonly used in the North to keep ground frozen. For example, thermosyphons are being used to preserve natural permafrost below the parking lot at the NWT Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife. Thermosyphons are self-sustaining and do not rely on an external source of power.
Q. Water expands when it freezes. Could the freezing cause fractures or otherwise affect the stability of the chambers?
A: Experience elsewhere shows that cracking of the rock is very unlikely. However, the detailed design of the freezing system will need to ensure that the freezing does not create high pressures within the dust or the surrounding rock. This is one of the design details that will be addressed prior to implementation.
Q. Has Global Warming been factored into the freezing option?
A: Yes. The calculations completed by the technical advisor show that the system being considered for freezing the mine will continue to work even with an increase of several degrees in the regional mean temperature. The site will also be continuously monitored using sophisticated equipment. Adjustments will be made if necessary to maintain the frozen areas.
Q. Will the permafrost in the area of Giant Mine re-establish itself?
A: No, the permafrost will not re-establish itself naturally. When the decision was made to store the arsenic trioxide in the chambers underground, it was considered to be the safest place because the chambers and stopes were within the permafrost zone. Over time, mining has caused deterioration of the permafrost. The selected long-term management alternative involves actively freezing the chambers, stopes and surrounding rock into frozen blocks with the use of a large freezing plant, similar to what is used to make artificial ice in rinks.
Health and Safety
Q. Is the water in Yellowknife safe to drink?
A: Yellowknife's water is safe to drink. It comes from the Yellowknife River and is collected well upstream of the Giant Mine before the river enters Yellowknife Bay. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is commonly found in the water of many rivers and lakes including the Yellowknife River. These trace amounts of arsenic are well below the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, similar to levels found in many other communities such as Gameti, Edmonton and Toronto.
Q. Is treated water getting into the water supply?
A: Giant's treated mine water does not get into Yellowknife's water supply. The treated mine water is released into Baker Creek. Yellowknife's drinking water is collected from the Yellowknife River, well upstream of Giant Mine, before the river enters Yellowknife Bay. The quality of this water is monitored by the City of Yellowknife.
Q. Exactly how safe is the mine site right now?
A: Safety is our first priority at Giant Mine. The NWT Mine Safety Inspector regularly inspects the site to observe the working conditions above and underground for qualified mine workers. These workers are well-trained in mine safety measures and have years of experience working in the mining industry. Every precaution is taken during their shifts and they have a good understanding of the risks they face. Security personnel are responsible for ensuring the public does not go on the site.
Q. Do you have a contingency plan in place in case of an emergency at the site?
A: Deton'Cho Nuna Joint Venture has a comprehensive Emergency Response Plan that covers many different situations. For example it was effectively put into motion when a minor fire was discovered in a ventilation unit on April 10, 2007.
Q. Are the underground storage chambers really safe?
A: The current storage of arsenic trioxide underground at Giant Mine is safe. The underground storage chambers are contained in bedrock and sealed with concrete bulkheads. The pumps at Giant Mine keep the level of groundwater well below the storage chambers. Any water seepage that comes into contact with the storage chambers is collected in the mine water system, pumped to the surface and treated. The mine and local surface waters are regularly monitored to ensure that arsenic trioxide does not escape into the environment. The arsenic trioxide at Giant Mine has been stored safely underground for decades and will continue to be safely stored until the Remediation Plan — and Frozen Block Method — is fully implemented.
Q. What is a Remediation Plan?
A: The Remediation Plan for Giant Mine is the blueprint for cleaning-up the Giant Mine site to ensure that human health and safety and the environment are protected for the future.
Q. Why do we need a Remediation Plan? What is the point?
A: The current status of Giant Mine is unacceptable. The site has been impacted by over 50 years of gold mining and ore processing. Arsenic trioxide stored underground must be effectively managed to protect human health and safety and the environment. The Remediation Plan explains how this will be done and also describes general site clean-up activities on the surface of the mine site.
Q. What does the Remediation Plan cover?
A: The Remediation Plan covers the clean-up of the entire mine site, including the management of the 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust currently stored underground, remediation of tailings ponds, and the demolition of buildings and other surface structures.
Q. Is there anything the Remediation Plan doesn't cover?
A: The Remediation Plan was thoroughly reviewed by technical advisors and subject matter experts to ensure it addressed all the issues associated with cleaning up the mine site. It covers all surface and underground aspects of Giant Mine. It does not address future uses of the site after the remediation is completed.
Q. Why can't Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada just go ahead with the remediation?
A: We need to apply for a water license as part of the regulatory process first, and get approval for our plan before we can begin doing the work.
Q. Who is the Remediation Plan being submitted to?
A: The Remediation Plan was submitted to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board as part of an application for a water license in accordance with the regulatory process.
Q. When will remediation of the site be finished?
A: We expect that the surface remediation may take up to 10 years to complete, while the complete freezing of the underground arsenic trioxide chambers and surrounding areas may take up to 15 years to complete.
Q. Will the remediation work remove all traces of arsenic trioxide from the area?
A: Most of the arsenic trioxide will stay safely sealed in the underground chambers behind concrete bulkheads and will be frozen. Any soils on the surface that are contaminated will be excavated and disposed of safely at the mine site.
Q. Is the Remediation Plan a "safe" plan?
A: Yes. The Remediation Plan includes clean-up methods that have been successfully used at other contaminated sites across North America. Safety measures that were developed for other clean-up projects in North America have been adopted for the remediation of Giant Mine. Managing the arsenic trioxide dust where it is currently stored will avoid the potential worker health and safety risks associated with having to move or handle the toxic material in the "take out" option.
Q. Where can I get a copy of the Remediation Plan? What does it look like?
A: The Remediation Plan is more than 200 pages long, and there are more than 40 supporting technical documents — maps, diagrams, tables, spreadsheets, illustrations — making for a pile of binders more than two feet high. Click here for an Executive Summary of the Remediation Plan. All supporting technical documents — including the complete Remediation Plan and supporting documents — are available through our public registry. For more information, please call the project office at (867) 669-2426.
Q. How was the Remediation Plan developed? How do you know you've got it right?
A: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and its Technical Advisor spent five years assessing the conditions at Giant Mine to gather the necessary information for developing the Remediation Plan. The initial plan for the long-term management of the underground arsenic trioxide dust was presented to the public and discussed at two separate workshops in 2003. Subsequently, the management plan for the underground arsenic trioxide dust was incorporated with the plans for the surface clean-up, to form the Giant Mine Remediation Plan.
The Remediation Plan addresses all aspects of the underground and surface clean-up of the mine and incorporates industry-best practices and technologies. It was subject to extensive review by an Independent Peer Review Panel, as well as by experts in other government departments. The long-term remediation of Giant Mine will be carried out in a manner that complies with all applicable legislation.
Q. What will the mine site look like when the Remediation Plan is finished?
A: The goal of the remediation is to minimize public health and safety issues and environmental concerns. Best efforts will be made to return the site to the natural landscape for the Yellowknife area. However, there will be some small areas that will need to remain under active management and monitoring — notably the water treatment plant, and the ground freezing system.
Q. How has public input influenced recent decisions made about Giant Mine?
A: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's Giant Mine Remediation Project team has worked diligently to engage the communities of Yellowknife, N'Dilo and Dettah and listen to their concerns. When the public told the team it wanted more information, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada extended its communications efforts by four months and participated in 20 additional public sessions. The majority of residents said they did not want a "take it out" alternative due to high worker health and safety risks, among other reasons. The public is now telling Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada that it is time to move forward with remediating the site, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has submitted its Remediation Plan for Giant Mine to the regulatory process.
Q. Why is it important to move forward with any long-term alternative now?
A: A long-term management strategy is needed now to minimize the risk posed by the arsenic trioxide at Giant Mine. Although the 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust is currently being safely contained and managed, such a large amount of toxic material demands a more comprehensive plan to minimize the risk. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has dedicated more than three years of research and community consultation to finding the most effective alternative to protect the health and safety of northerners and the environment. The answers are in and it is time to move forward with a solid long-term plan.
Q. Is the Frozen Block method a "walk-away" solution for Giant Mine?
A: A total "walk-away" solution does not exist. The arsenic trioxide dust that is in the stopes and chambers would be contained in frozen blocks, but a smaller amount remains distributed throughout the other underground mine workings. Ongoing water treatment is likely to be required to ensure this arsenic does not leave the site. All of the arsenic trioxide management alternatives would require ongoing water treatment and monitoring, including those options that would take the arsenic trioxide out of the stopes and chambers.
Q. How does the contamination at Giant Mine compare to other contaminated sites around the world?
A: It is believed that Giant Mine holds the largest amount of stored arsenic trioxide dust in the world. The fact that it is located near a city and on the shores of a large lake are also significant risk factors.
Q. Is the federal government committed to further research and development now that a Remediation Plan has been finalized?
A: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will continue to protect human health and safety, and the environment, even once the remediation is complete. The Giant Mine site will be continuously monitored and inspected. New and relevant information regarding this project will also continue to be considered and evaluated.
Q. What if new technology in the future reveals a better method for dealing with the arsenic trioxide dust instead of freezing it? Can the work be reversed?
A: Freezing can always be reversed in the unlikely event that better cost-effective technologies for dealing with the arsenic trioxide are developed.
Q. Who is paying for the clean-up of Giant Mine?
A: The Government of Canada and the GNWT will share the costs of remediation at Giant Mine according to terms laid out in the 2005 Cooperation Agreement.
Q. How can the public get more information on the Giant Mine project and offer their feedback?
A: There are several ways to learn more about the Giant Mine Remediation Project. Information about the project can be found on this website and at the Giant Mine Remediation Project's public registry. For more information, please call the project office at (867) 669-2426.
The Giant Mine Community Alliance is a public advisory group set up to relay public concerns to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. For more information, contact The Giant Mine Community Alliance.