Spills From Bloom Lake Iron Mine Becoming Routine

Philippe Teisceira-Lessard, La Presse, September 22, 2012
– translation courtesy of Ramsay Hart of Mining Watch

In 2011 the equivalent of 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools of untreated water was released from the company’s facilities after a dike breech.

After five environmental accidents in 18 months and the spilling of millions of litres of contaminated water into some 15 natural water bodies, the company that operates Bloom Lake’s gigantic iron mine may be now reprimanded by the Ministry of the Environment.

Ministry officials suspect negligence on the part of the ownership and promise to crack down on the company.

Last Wednesday, an unknown quantity of water containing material in suspension broke free from the mine facility and flowed into two neighbouring lakes.

“We are considering every type of action for this incident,” states Frédéric Fournier, regional spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment. “We must get serious and crack down on this behaviour.”

Annie Desrosiers, spokesperson for the mine’s owner, Cliff Natural Resources, claimed that the Côte-Nord received exceptionally high rainfall over the summer, which led to the incident.

Repeat Offender

This is not the first spill at the Bloom Lake mine.

Situated on the outskirts of Fermont on the Côte-Nord, mining activity began in the summer of 2010 after a particularly quick setup. But since April 2011, the mining project has seen environmental accidents add up.

Four out of five of these “environmental emergencies” have been classified at Level 2 on a scale of three used by the Service Urgence-Environnementale [Environmental Emergency Service]. According to them, situations of this level are relatively rare.

In May 2011, the equivalent of 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools of untreated drainage water escaped the company’s facilities after a dike broke. Fifteen downstream lakes were affected by the breech.

Two days earlier, 10 000 litres of ferric sulfate had been emptied into the environment. This time, the Ministry had discovered that a holding pond did not meet regulations.

In April 2011, an “error in the mine’s used water treatment system design” caused a spill of two million litres of processing water containing mineral residues.

“These are two completely different cases,” Mr. Fournier explained. “For numerous reasons, there has not been the means to follow up on them.”

According to Cliff Natural Resources, all of these cases were again made the focus of analyses and it was not possible to comment further on them.

Rapidly Designed

Hubert Vallée, the employee in charge of the site’s design, assures that the site follows guidelines set down by both the provincial and federal governments.

“We built it quickly, and that bothered everyone because we didn’t use the standard methods that others have used,” Mr. Vallée confirmed to La Presse. “But we did everything according to the regulations,” he added. Since the mine’s construction, Mr. Vallée is no longer with Cliff Natural Resources.

Environmental groups state that the company does not have an excellent reputation in the mining world, especially for its projects in Ontario. “Up to now, they don’t have a very good track record at all,” declares Ugo Lapointe of the Coalition pour que le Québec ait meilleure mine. [Better Mining Coalition]

According to him, the Ministry of the Environment is sorely lacking the resources needed to enforce the law through measures such as inquiries and legal action.