Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Lawsuit exposes Canada’s toxic tailings secret

Litigation was launched today against Canada’s Minister of Environment to ensure that the hundreds of millions of kilograms of toxic mining waste being kept secret from the Canadian public are reported.

Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) filed the lawsuit, an Application for Judicial Review, in Federal Court today on behalf of MiningWatch Canada and Great Lakes United. It alleges that the Minister broke the law when he directed mining companies to ignore their legal responsibility to report millions of kilograms of pollution from their operations under the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI).

“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, Staff Lawyer with Ecojustice. “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.”

In stark contrast, the U.S. government has required mining companies to report the amounts of pollutants generated by their operations under the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) since 1998. Despite the fact that the US mining industry composes only 72 of the 23,566 total TRI-reporting industrial facilities, in 2005 the mines released more than 530 million kilograms of pollutants – accounting for 27% of all pollutants reported across the U.S.  Mine tailings and waste rock – the data being withheld from the Canadian public – accounted for more than 97% of the total pollutants reported by the mining industry.

“Given the enormous amounts of carcinogens and heavy metals like lead and mercury in U.S. mine tailings, it is absurd that Canadian mines are being let off the hook,” said Joan Kuyek from MiningWatch Canada. “From Smithers to Voisey’s Bay, Canadians have a right to know what – and how much – pollution the mining industry is releasing into our air, water, and soil.”

The 80 metal mining facilities that reported to the NPRI in 2006 were from: Ontario(33), Quebec(19), BC(9), Manitoba(6), Saskatchewan(6), Newfoundland(3), New Brunswick(2), Nunavut(2).

“Two weeks ago the Minister of the Environment stood on the shore of Lake Superior with the Prime Minster as they announced the creation of the world’s largest freshwater marine park,” said John Jackson of Great Lakes United. “At the same time he protects the mining industry by hiding the toxic pollution that could spoil this ecosystem for generations.”

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