TATAMAGOUCHE — An exploratory mineral drill hole that is leaking high levels of arsenic and iron on Warwick Mountain should be a warning to the province that more stringent regulations are required, an environmental group spokesman says.
“We are happy that they’ve decided to change their minds and cap the hole,” said John Perkins of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia (SuNNS).
“We hope that it’s a wake-up call to them in the future,” he said. “This is like a canary in a coal mine situation. It’s indicative of bigger problems.”
His comments come in reference to a 180-metre test hole drilled in the New Annan area on Warwick Mountain by a private mining company in 2011.
A Department of Energy and Mine spokesperson said a provincial geologist discovered water coming from the site last year while conducting routine fieldwork. Water tests ordered by the department found arsenic levels that were 10 times higher than drinking water quality guidelines and 25 times the recommended limits for fresh water aquatic life.
Perkins said he understands the water also contains high levels of iron and manganese and area residents have concerns about the contaminated water poisoning their drinking water.
“There was a huge belt of arsenic, which is inherent in that kind of rock. It’s like an artesian well, the water pouring out and the dissolved minerals are in it when it comes to the surface ... and some minerals remain in the solution and go with the water where ever it goes.
“So, one drill hole leaking contaminated water into the French River watershed has the potential to contaminate the food chain with arsenic that will contaminate the waterway with arsenic which will contaminate the fish and wildlife, etcera, etcera, and has the potential to go into nearby wells.”
The provincial government recently agreed to cap the well after previously refusing to do so because it is located on private property.
“That’s one level of concern. The other level of concern is indicative of bigger problems, indicative of the lack of regulation and oversight. The lack of what you might call a ‘bad actor’ program,” Perkins said. “The province doesn’t have mechanisms in place at the exploration stage to ensure that companies will behave properly, that they will exercise due diligence, that they will do their work properly.”
With about 780 similar exploration holes throughout the province, Perkins wonders how many others are also spewing out contamination.
“It’s a huge concern. It’s a potentially extremely serious problem,” he said. “This one’s been leaking for maybe seven years. They need to be all checked and the extent of the problem determined.”
Mike Gregory, Colchester County Councillor for District 7, said mining issues and the potential for water pollution is a major concern for area residents and the municipality should have been contacted by the department when the leaking drill hole was detected last year.
“That would have been the thing to do. It was like somebody tried to hide something,” he said. “The whole idea of mining in a watershed leaves people worried whether there will be problems.”
He said the municipality is working on a bylaw dealing with the protection of source water, but he also feels the leak should have been capped before now.
“Mining is a concern and people are upset about it and they want to protect what we have here,” Gregory said. “If we lose our water, what the heck will we do?”