Arsenic options on table
Arsenic experts focus on Giant

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Jun 25/99) - At the end of it all, public health and environmental safety won't be at risk from the arsenic underneath Giant mine.

That's what the federal government is hoping to achieve by holding a three-day workshop with environment, chemical and scientific experts from across North America.

"The government is fully cognizant of the seriousness of this issue on many fronts -- economically, socially and environmentally," MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew said.

"By bringing these individuals to Yellowknife who are renowned in their field of work, we are attempting to find solutions to the arsenic trioxide situation at Giant.

"My cabinet colleagues, including Department of Indian and Northern Development Minister Jane Stewart, and Environment Minister Christine Stewart, are fully aware and briefed on what's occurring here," she added.

Blondin-Andrew said the workshops are designed to outline the best option, or options, to ensure the 270,000 tonnes of stored arsenic is neutralized and the threat of environmental contamination from that arsenic is removed.

"I know that finding a 95 per cent solution is not acceptable. It has to be a total solution and we know it is a very difficult process," Blondin-Andrew said.

"The solutions will be hard won but we are undeterred."

There are seven options to be considered by delegates such as permanently sealing the chambers where the arsenic is stored, stabilization and solidification of the arsenic, and bio-leaching -- which is the process of using bacteria that eat arsenic.

University of British Columbia organic chemistry professor Bill Cullen talked on Wednesday about the solidification option. He said incorporating the arsenic into cement, bitumen or glass are ways to stabilize the carcinogen.

"It's a process that is widely used in the waste disposal business," Cullen said.

"It's also used for long-term storage in the nuclear industry and in the destruction and disposal of nuclear warheads and chemical weapons."

He held up a microwave-safe glass bowl for delegates to see. He said the bowl is an example of one of the safest solid forms to put the arsenic in. The common kitchen item he was holding consisted of one per cent arsenic.

"If I was to select a technology that was do-able, it would be to solidify the arsenic in glass," Cullen said.

Vice-Roy Minerals environmental services manager Larry Connell was the former environmental manager for Royal Oak. He said the delegates in the room are the ones best able to determine the future fate of the arsenic.

"I think it's very gratifying to see DIAND dealing with the problem and not assigning blame. They're putting public health and environmental concerns above blame or cost," Connell said.

He also commented on the current state of the stored arsenic at Giant mine.

"Right now, the people that are on the site are keeping the groundwater away from the material and all of the water that is being pumped from the mine is being treated," Connell said.

"The situation is stable at the mine. There's no solution, which is why we're here, but things are stable."