The federal government is not doing enough to stop dust blowing from Giant Mine’s contaminated tailings ponds, according to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN).
In a statement on Friday, Chief Ernest Betsina said a dust cloud from the mine site earlier this month had caused “extreme stress” in N’Dilo and Dettah. A video posted last week claims to show some of the dust blowing from the site.
The federal government’s remediation team uses air quality monitoring to keep track of the dust. Betsina wants the government to lower the level of dust at which action is taken, in order to speed up its response.
The federal government team responsible for Giant Mine said swift action is always taken when dust levels are high.
Regarding the incident highlighted by YKDFN, Natalie Plato – deputy director of the mine remediation project – said: “The project team took action to contain the dust by stopping work and wetting the tailings, as per standard operating procedures.
“This incident did not pose any immediate risk to workers, the public, or the environment. The team will continue to take active steps to manage the dry conditions on site.”
While no dust reached either community, Betsina said local residents felt threatened.
“These are close calls and too close for comfort,” he said. “It is unacceptable to see [tailings dust] heading our way in a seemingly threatening manner. Visually seeing the tailings dust plume coming our way, and wondering if there are potential long-term health effects as a result of it, causes an extreme amount of stress for the community residents of N’Dilo and Dettah.
“If the project lowered the dust action level … wetting of the tailings can be achieved way ahead of time, in a more proactive manner, to reduce the menacing appearance of the tailings dust plume.”
Read more: Giant Mine’s tailings ponds
In full: YKDFN’s statement regarding dust plumes (pdf)
Betsina added that he understands the constraints within which the federal remediation team operates – for example, the water licence for full remediation has not yet been granted, so some options are not yet legally available.
But he demanded an “acceptable solution” to prevent similar dust clouds appearing during the next spring season.
Giant Mine – a former gold mine – is one of the most contaminated sites in Canada, but the contents of these tailings dust plumes are not clear. While Giant’s four main tailings ponds contain contaminated material, they are not among the most toxic areas of the site.