A series of environmental tests was spawned in the District of Stewart by a revelation that mine tailings were given to the city for municipal road work, and were contaminated with higher than average levels of arsenic and other materials.
A local resident reported to the city hall that she had seen waste rock being crushed within city limits and then get transported to the municipal services yard and stored in two piles.
In response, The District of Stewart then commissioned the McElhanney consulting firm to test the crushed ore than had been left behind and “six roadways suspected of receiving mine tailing fill.”
According to the McElhanney report, tests “yielded results that exceeded applicable soil standards for arsenic, cobalt, and copper,” adding that it was a “contaminated stockpile” not suitable for use on roads “however was not found to be Hazardous Waste.”
They then tested several roads that looked freshly gravelled to see if any of the residue showed up.
“Each roadway was reviewed visually for signs of recent disturbance,” said McElhanney.
Of these tests, “2 of 6 suspect roadway samples (7th Ave. and Conway St.) marginally exceeded the 15 mg/kg arsenic drinking water standard with concentrations of 16.1 and 16.7.”
A third sample also showed elevated levels of arsenic near someone’s home who had requested a test. “The discrete sample collected at 218 9th Avenue exceeded arsenic standards with a concentration of 16,100 mg/kg,” reads the report.
However the roadway results were not necessarily out of the ordinary: “These excedences may be attributed to natural variability of arsenic in the region.” Nor was the contamination deemed to be leachable, meaning it would not seep into groundwater, which was confirmed by initial tests.
“We are confident that none of this material was used in our community by Public Works,” the district said in the letter it sent to residents.
Mayor Galina Durant said a former district public works director, who has since left town, accepted the crushed ore from Red Eye.
Durant herself has researched the use of mine rock in road construction, a practice she said is done in Toronto, and thinks the former public works director had a similar notion.
“I believe that our public work directors accepted the materials for the same reason. Unfortunately, this material exceeds the acceptable levels of metals,” she said.
According to Red Eye official Randy Kasum, it was not his company that offered the rock, it was the city who asked for it to use as a fine gravel for roads.
“We were just taking it back up to our mineral property and they said they could use it,” he said.
Durant said Stewart residents are justified in their concern, though she said the decision to use waste rock for roads was not a council decision.
“You know we are living in an area with active mining and an area with a high level of arsenic and people are concerned, especially when we have contamination issues in our boundaries,” said Durant.
Meanwhile, the ministry of the environment has also become involved, doing its own studies of the sites and involving itself in permitting with Red Eye.
A statement from environment ministry David Karn says it received a complaint Aug. 27 from a resident about Red Eye Resources/Decade Resources crushing rock in town.
“The complaint alleged that the mine had distributed the mine waste to the District of Stewart for use as road sand in the winter,” said Karn.
The official added that the mining company didn’t have the proper permit to be processing waste rock.
“Since there is no authorization in place and the site may have become contaminated, the ministry’s Land Remediation Team have been involved.”
Red Eye had to transport all the crushed rock back to the mine site, and says it has had to bear the cost of that as well as the possible cost for doing tests at its worksite.
“It’s costly to have to reload it all and transport it back to their mine site,” said Kasum. “We had to haul it over there and we had to haul it back. We many have to pay for a few assays too.”
He added that he feels the situation is largely political.
As for how much the McElhanney tests cost, the District of Stewart has yet to find out.