OTTAWA – Environment Canada is recommending that the Harper government toughen rules to prevent water pollution from industrial mines and that it expand federal monitoring to at least four new substances released from mining activity.
“These substances are harmful or potentially toxic, and in some cases potentially fatal to fish, and they are present in effluent from a wide range of metal mines,” says an internal Environment Canada discussion paper, circulated last December to representatives from industry, the provinces, First Nations and environmental groups.
The document was launching a review of existing regulations, which came into force in December 2002 and were designed to monitor pollution from mines that could get into water. The paper estimated that there were 105 existing metal mines in Canada in 2010, with about another 60 under review or proposed for operation in the future. The four new substances, recommended for restrictions in the discussion paper, were aluminum, iron, selenium and ammonia.
An internal memo sent to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver about the Environment Department’s review noted that Canada had also received a warning from the United States about selenium, a pollutant associated with coal mines, getting into transboundary waterways.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has indicated that it will be taking a hard look at what Canada decides with respect to acceptable selenium levels in the upcoming review,” said the memo to Oliver, dated Sept. 10, 2012, from his deputy minister, Serge Dupont, and released through access to information legislation.
The Environment Canada discussion paper also recommended more “stringent” limits on the substances covered by the existing regulations and new restrictions on non-metal mines such as sites extracting diamond and coal.
An Environment Canada spokesman said Thursday that the department was reviewing the regulations in order to “update and strengthen” them as part of its regular due diligence.
“The regulations need to be updated to consider new substances of concern, new environmental effects information and advances in effluent treatment technologies,” said spokesman Mark Johnson.
A mining industry spokesman, Pierre Gratton, said his organization requested the government review so that member companies could have more certainty about their own operations in relation to the federal Fisheries Act, which is the main national law preventing water pollution in Canada.
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