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Jane Amphlett, general manager of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development's Giant Mine Remediation team, points to the flue network of the roaster complex at Giant Mine on Wednesday. These flues are the most contaminated and most structurally unstable portions of the roaster. - Laura Busch/NNSL photo

Disaster plan under wraps
Yellowknives told emergency plan for Giant Mine exists but not publicly available yet

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 10, 2013

The federal government has an emergency plan should disaster befall Giant Mine, residents were told at a meeting held in Ndilo, Wednesday night. It's just not ready to show people what's in it yet.

The fear of arsenic contamination from the abandoned gold mine leaking into Yellowknife Bay was very much on the minds of Yellowknives Dene band members at the meeting, particularly now that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development's Giant Mine remediation team plans to dismantle several heavily-contaminated buildings on the mine's surface this summer.

The pipes in the roaster complex alone are believed to be filled with 40 tonnes of deadly arsenic trioxide a partially soluble byproduct left behind from decades of roasting gold ore at the mine.

"What is the disaster plan if arsenic is released?" asked one attendee, who declined to give her name.

"We have a detailed plan for various scenarios," said Jane Amphlett, general manager for AANDC's Giant Mine remediation team, before conceding that there is no publicly available document for people to see at least not yet.

Phil Nixon of Parsons Canada told the audience his team plans to wrap the roaster complex in what he called "shrink wrap" a layer of thick white tarp, and create a negative-pressure vacuum inside to limit the chances for arsenic or other airborne contaminates to escape while the complex is being decontaminated.

Nixon also pledged that 30 per cent of the workforce involved in the roaster deconstruction would be hired locally.

Some clean-up workers will wear air-monitoring devices on their respirator systems. Also, Parsons Canada Ltd. will have air-monitoring devices within the "shrink-wrapped" area. Finally, third-party contractors Williams Engineering will conduct independent air monitoring to test for contaminates outside the complex to ensure nothing is leaking out.

"Our commitment to this community is we are going to do this job safely," said Nixon during the meeting.

People at the meeting remained skeptical,however, asking again and again what the emergency plan was if anything should go wrong. There are several emergency plans, said Amphlett, adding the team had met with the Yellowknife fire department at the site on Tuesday to discuss what would happen if, say, there was a fire broke out.

Making air quality sampling information available to the public throughout the project is currently being examined as an option, she said. Amphlett said it is possible contaminates could get into the air during demolition of the roaster complex, however, she stressed this would be a very unlikely scenario.

When later asked by News/North what would happen in the event of the fire, Amphlett said clean-up crews at the mine site would call the Yellowknife fire department if needed.

"If a fire started in the complex, the team would assess if they can use fire extinguishers to get it under control and if they could deal with it themselves," said Amphlett.

"If they can't, they would contact the city and the Yellowknife fire department."

Until the full remediation plan has been approved by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board, contaminates from the roaster complex will be stored above ground in hazardous waste bags in a specially-made structure that will protect those bags from the weather, said Amphlett. Once the remediation plan is finalized, these contaminates will be stored permanently underground, she said.

Although last week's meetings were supposed to focus only on the roaster complex, many residents took the opportunity to vent frustrations about the project as a whole.

"It's a threat. That's the bottom line it's still a threat frozen underground," said 21-year-old Johnny Caisse, referring to the government's plan to leave in perpetuity 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide already being stored underground.

"That's my main concern, is the final step and they're focusing on the first two steps."

Decontamination work on the site is to begin next month.

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