Environmental group alleges De Beers’ Victor diamond mine failed to monitor mercury contamination

21 December 2015 (Last Updated December 21st, 2015 18:30)

A new report released by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s (CPAWS) Wildlands League has alleged that neither De Beers nor the national government could monitor mercury risks from the Victor Diamond mine in northern Ontario.

Victor Mine

A new report released by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's (CPAWS) Wildlands League has alleged that neither De Beers or the national government could monitor mercury risks from the Victor Diamond mine in northern Ontario.

The study titled, 'Nothing to See Here' is the result of an investigation carried out by the environmental group for 18 months and calls for environmental monitoring of the mine.

The investigation found failures in self-monitoring and increased concerns about entrusting the company to protect the environment in which it operates.

Wildlands League urged the Government of Ontario to engage an independent third party to monitor the mine.

CPAWS Wildlands League policy and research director Trevor Hesselink said: "De Beers has failed to report on five out of nine surface water monitoring stations, a mandatory requirement of its permit, for the last seven years.

"To compound matters, it is the downstream mercury samples that are not being reported."

The open-pit mine is located in a fragile ecosystem in the James Bay Lowlands and activities carried out at the mine stimulate mercury conversion to methylmercury, a neurotoxin, which accumulates in fish and other food sources of the people living in the area.

Hesselink added: "Unreported data from one of the downstream stations shared with us by a concerned party, shows a tripling of methylmercury."

However, De Beers denied the allegations and stated that its environmental data is often misrepresented.

"It is the downstream mercury samples that are not being reported."

De Beers spokesperson Tom Ormsby told CBC News that the company collects data from 200 ground wells and 15 surface wells and submits it to the government.

Ormsby said: "Some sample sites that were relevant in the past may no longer be the most relevant or material now as the mine moved from construction to operations."

The Victor mine opened in 2008 and has an expected operations life of ten years.

De Beers proposed to dig the pit deeper to extend the mine life and dig another pit to bring the ore back to the site for processing.

CPAWS alleged that such digging is expected to put the lands and waters near the Victor mine under additional pressures and a reliable monitoring programme will be needed to monitor such affects.

To restore the integrity of the programme, CPAWS called on the province to stop relying on existing self-monitoring and establish independent monitoring and reporting.


Image: The Victor mine in Canada has an expected mine life of ten years. Photo: courtesy of De Beers UK Limited.