Editorial Friday, August 22, 1997
Yellowknife: arsenic capital of Canada?

Gold mining in Yellowknife has tended to treat arsenic as a troubling but unavoidable nuisance. The carcinogenic element is found in just about all soils, but it's most often associated with deposits of gold and other minerals.

Giant Mine, for example, has tens of thousand of tonnes of the stuff -- in the form of arsenic trioxide -- sitting underground, just waiting for what environmentalists say is a chance to contaminate the groundwater, if some hasn't already found its way into the ecosystem.

Royal Oak hasn't been too keen on the idea of getting rid of the stockpile, since that would eat into its profits. But now CEO Peggy Witte has suddenly decided that she might be able to afford to deal with her arsenic stores.

Why? Turns out that arsenic and arsenic trioxide aren't entirely useless. Arsenic trioxide is most commonly used as a hide and wood preservative and pesticide, although demand has been dropping in recent years.

Fortunately, the semi-conductor industry -- the folks who make computer chips -- is eyeing a compound of arsenic and gallium as a replacement for silicon. Gallium-arsenic chips mean smaller and cheaper computers.

Arsenic prices, it would seem, are finally high enough to justify doing something about one of the city's biggest environmental threats. (Remember that Yellowknifers are breathing air between up to 13 times more contaminated with arsenic than the typical southern city.)

It has been pointed out that Royal Oak's NWT Water Board licence is up for renewal next spring, and Witte may be taking advantage of the situation to avoid any problems with pending board hearings.

But let's face it: the political will to stare down one of the city's major employers over environmental concerns has never been particularly strong. And until political pressure and corporate ethics are up to the task, it's nice to know the marketplace is there to fall back on.

Peace of mind

Yellowknife's fire department must be commended for its progressive approach to emergency services. Its latest programs are aimed at senior citizens, elders and others who choose to live independently but are required to take vital medication.

The Star of Life and EMS Rapid Entry programs allow firemedics to gain fast access to these peoples' homes and quickly find out what medication they may be in need of.

On the face of it, this may not seem like much. However, for people who have the ability to live independently but are worried about possible medication reactions (or have family members who worry about them) this will give them and their families peace of mind. To us, that's a service that's worth providing.

Sign of trouble

We understand laundromat owner John Coumont's frustration with city hall over signs he keeps putting up -- and city hall keeps taking down -- on the side of Woolgar Avenue and Range Lake Road.

However, if one store owner were allowed to put signs up, then all store owners could do the same. Yellowknife's sidewalks and roads might just become a cluttered mess of signs proclaiming "this way" and "that way" to retail outlets.

City hall is right. But Coumont should know there are a number of other ways to bring customers into his new laundromat. Those include newspaper, radio, television and flyer advertising, but also through offering quality service at reasonable rates. If he does that, people will have no problem finding his location.