Mining industry responds to cover up allegations

Vancouver, Canada – In the wake of a formal suit filed against him in the Federal Court by two environmental groups for not divulging information about mine tailings, long considered a most hazardous aspect the mining process, Environment Minister John Baird has called for tough reporting standards for such mine wastes and has directed his officials to determine how best to make such information public. Mining industry representatives call the allegations “ludicrous and insulting” arguing that detailed information is routinely reported to governments.

On November 7, two advocacy groups, Great Lakes United (GLU) and Mining Watch Canada (MWC), filed lawsuits alleging that the Environment Ministry and the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) have a mutual agreement not to report the contents of mine tailings to a federal database to avoid a public relations nightmare from greater public awareness of the environmental harm being done by the industry.

According to the GLU and MWC, mine tailings, which commonly contain toxic materials such as lead and mercury, meet the reporting criteria for the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), which requires members of Canadian industry to report annual releases of potentially harmful chemicals.

“The law is clear - mining companies in Canada are legally required to report the amount of chemicals they are releasing into the environment,” said Justin Duncan, a lawyer from Ecojustice who is representing the environmental groups in the lawsuit. “Instead, at the direction of the Minister of Environment, these companies continue to flout the law by not reporting massive amounts of toxic tailings they dump into our environment each year.”

The groups are specifically concerned with effects that five gold mines and one palladium mine that border Lake Superior will have on the lake and the new freshwater marine park that was created two weeks ago.

Pierre Gratton, spokesman for the Mining Association in a response to the allegations released on November 8, stated that the industry is adhering to the NPRI legislation and reporting all required releases including what comes from tailings. He noted that:

Canada’s mining industry has reported annually to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) all required information from mills and smelters, including all releases to air and water from tailings, ever since the creation of the NPRI in 1992.

MAC has supported a proposal by Environment Canada to remove the exemption that limited reporting of some mining industry-related information. This exemption was eliminated in 2006.

Provincial and territorial governments, in their regulation of mining operations, require the reporting of detailed information about mine sites including tailings. MAC supports measures that would improve access to and the consistency of such information
He further noted that a recent Environment Canada-organized multi-stakeholder examination of this issue agreed on the need for some type of mandatory regular reporting mechanism relating to the “core set” of information needs relating to tailings and waste rock, though agreement was not reached on whether the NPRI was the right mechanism for reporting this information.

Nonetheless, he stated, MAC remains fully aligned with the outcomes of the workshop, and is committed to assisting the government on matters of its implementation. The Workshop Report is available at

Gratton also noted that under the MAC’s award winning sustainable development initiative, Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM), it is mandatory that MAC members annually disclose environmental and social performance information.

The two advocacy groups note that mines in the United States must keep accurate records of all releases, and mine tailings make up 97% of reported releases from mines. The two groups allege this does not correspond to data that is available from Canadian mines.

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