Sudbury column: Who pays the bill for Ontario’s abandoned mines? – by John Gunn (Sudbury Star – February 2, 2019)

Note: This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

John Gunn is the Canada Research Chair in Stressed Aquatic Systems, Laurentian University.

The fate of abandoned mines are a familiar problem for those living in communal spaces, with common rooms and shared kitchens: “Who is going to clean up this mess?” and “Who is going to pay for the damages?”

Public lands have the same problem when people dump trash in the bush to avoid paying landfill fees. But cleaning up industrial brownfields, like the mercury-laden sediments in the English-Wabigoon River near Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario, is a far bigger problem than collecting litter.

We are beginning to see some changes. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that bankrupt oil and gas companies must meet their environmental commitments before they pay off their creditors.

In the mining sector, there are more than 5,000 abandoned sites in Ontario where the taxpayer is on the hook for the cleanup, ecosystem repairs and dealing with the downstream miseries faced by communities. Ontario has spent about $75 million to date to clean up the former Kam Kotia Mine near Timmins. It may be the largest ecological rehabilitation effort in the province.

But the vast majority of abandoned mines have not been dealt with, including a former gold mine south of Sudbury, where arsenic is steadily seeping into Long Lake and forcing nearby residents to use bottled water.

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