Allegations of run-off leaks going back to at least 1963 come following seizure of documents, computers from Vale’s Sudbury offices in early October
Environment Canada is investigating Vale SA’s Sudbury, Ont., smelting operations for allegedly leaking toxic run-off into local waterways since at least 1963.
The allegations are contained in a warrant the government agency used to seize documents, computers and related materials from Vale’s Sudbury offices on Oct. 8 as part of its investigation into potential violations of the Fisheries Act.
In the warrant, Environment Canada accuses the company of allowing “acutely lethal” seepage from the smelter waste piles into water frequented by fish, and of knowing about the leakage for years. The warrant contains allegations not proven in court.
The accusations indicate the seepage started well before Vale took control of the smelter when it acquired Inco Ltd. in 2006 for US$17.6 billion.
The Environment Canada investigation was triggered after a Sudbury resident noticed a “foamy, lime-green coloured substance in a creek” in October 2012. The federal agency’s officers followed the seepage back to Vale’s Copper Cliff smelter slag storage area, the document says.
It says the slag storage area is a massive, 200-hectare waste dump in active use since 1929, with more than 115 million tonnes of smelter waste.
Gordon Moore, who drafted the warrant and was one of the Environment Canada enforcement officers who responded to the 2012 incident, said in the document that at the time he found light greenish-coloured water flowing from the smelter waste heaps onto a Sudbury Catholic District School Board property and then into the city’s storm drains.
The warrant says those storm drains flow into Nolin’s Creek and then into Junction Creek, both of which, according to Environment Canada, are considered fish-bearing creeks.
Vale is quoted in the warrants as disputing that Nolin’s Creek is fish-bearing, and says the run-off would be diluted by the time it reaches Junction Creek.
Moore says in the warrant that tests on the substance found in the creek in October 2012 showed it killed all fish in the test within 24 hours. To be considered “deleterious” — or harmful under the Fisheries Act — a sample has to kill at least 50 per cent of fish within 96 hours.
Samples from the creek showed nickel levels to be 68 times higher than regulated limits and copper levels 2.6 times higher, while tests on water from the school board property showed nickel levels to be 305 times the limit, the warrant says.
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