Is Yellowknife Ready to Reckon with its Toxic Legacy?
Gold smelters emitted 19,000 tonnes of arsenic during half-century of mining
Winter is returning to the subarctic city of Yellowknife, bringing its snow and ice, the only barriers between people and a toxic legacy of the city's gold mining history.
During more than half a century of mining, 19,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust went up the stacks of smelters at the Giant and Con mines and settled on the once-pristine land and lakes in and around Yellowknife.
One teaspoon of that dust is enough to kill an adult.
Though recent scientific research shows that much of the arsenic that went up the stacks is still in the water, sediment and soil, officials and governments have yet to reckon fully with the environmental and human risks.
Due to concerns about arsenic and sewage, since 1968 the city has been drawing its drinking water through an eight-kilometre underwater pipe to the Yellowknife River, upstream of the mines and away from the arsenic fallout.
Now, in a cost-saving measure, the city is considering drawing its drinking water from Yellowknife Bay, near the old Con Mine and a few kilometres from Giant.
At an initial presentation of the idea in June, city council got a taste of the opposition it will face.
"I honestly don't think there's anything more important than putting that [old] pipe back in place," said Georges Erasmus, a member of the local Yellowknives Dene First Nation and former co-chair of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
"Anything else is really reckless."