The Mining Association of Nova Scotia would like to respond to questions about how the industry takes care of water raised in “Department of Natural Resources Delays gold exploration proposals” (March 29).
Mining and quarrying is an environmentally-responsible industry that is stringently regulated by the provincial government. The province’s regulatory regime helps ensure that Nova Scotians enjoy the full benefits of the materials we take from the ground, and that the industry operates in a safe, sustainable, responsible fashion.
Two major new gold mines were opened in Nova Scotia in 2017, and a number of companies are currently doing gold exploration in the province. These projects have created hundreds of new jobs for Nova Scotians with more opportunities anticipated in coming years.
Water is used on mine and quarry sites for various purposes, such as controlling dust and as part of processing. Mines and quarries test water discharges on at least a monthly basis and treat it to ensure water quality is within acceptable levels. Water released back into a river or lake is often cleaner after it has been used in a mine or quarry than it was beforehand. Companies are required to submit regular reports to the government to ensure they are compliant with all rules and regulations.
Gold in Nova Scotia is generally not found in nuggets; it is found in tiny flecks, often microscopically small. Because those flecks are usually within rock, it has to be separated from the rock using various processes. Cyanide leaching has been the main gold extraction technology since the 1970s because it is more effective, safer and has less environmental impact than other options, such as mercury. Cyanide leaching is usually done along with a physical process like milling, crushing, floatation and gravity separation.
Mining operations use the smallest amount of cyanide necessary to extract gold effectively. This reduces cost and environmental concerns. Mining operations also recycle cyanide and remove it from tailings before tailings are released to a tailings management facility. Any residual cyanide in tailings naturally photodegrades with exposure to air and sunlight.
Cyanide is a naturally occurring chemical that is found throughout nature. At least 1000 species of plants, micro-organisms and insects are capable of producing cyanide. Foods such as coffee, almonds, lima beans and table salt all contain small amounts of naturally-occurring cyanide.
Cyanide does not persist in the environment and is quickly and naturally broken down when exposed to sunlight and air. The human body has a natural ability to detoxify small quantities of cyanide, so it generally poses little risk.
A gold mine in the Wentworth-Tatamagouche area is years away if it happens at all. But if a mine is ever opened in the area, we want residents to know that the environment, including water, will be properly taken care of using the latest science and global best practices. This is the sort of safe, sustainable, responsible economic development the province needs, especially in rural areas.
More information about how Nova Scotia’s mining industry takes care of water is available at http://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/water-management
- Sean Kirby is Executive Director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia