Deloro Mine Site – Historical Overview
From about the 1860s until 1961, the Deloro site was used for mining and refining. Gold was discovered in 1868 and Deloro was originally the site of extensive gold mining operations which involved the extraction of gold from ore that had a high arsenic content. The Deloro smelter also processed arsenic-bearing silver and cobalt ores from various locations in northern Ontario.
From 1907 to 1961, the Deloro mine and smelter were operated as a subsidiary of M.J. O’Brien Limited and produced silver, cobalt, arsenic and other metals in small quantities. The metal manufacturing department produced alloys particularly stellite, a cobalt-chromium-tungsten alloy.
Arsenic based pesticides were also produced from the arsenic by-products of the smelting operations, and continued as an important activity at the site until the market gave way to organic pesticides in the late 1950s.
In 1938, Deloro obtained contracts to supply stellite for the British aircraft industry. Through World War II and the Korean War, the Deloro smelter processed concentrates from African mines as part of the strategic material programs of the Canadian and American governments. After World War II, Deloro metals department continued to be a supplier of jet engine components, most notably as a sub-contractor for the Avro Arrow plane.
As early as 1958, arsenic contamination of the river was reported by the Ontario Water Resources Commission (predecessor of MOE). In late July and early August of that year, a dozen cows died and others became sick of arsenic poisoning after being watered at the river.
In 1961, the smelter closed and Deloro Smelting and Refining Company moved the metals manufacturing division’s sale to Belleville. Deloro Stellite was sold to British Oxygen in 1970. However, the Deloro property, its arsenic treatment plant and other remaining buildings were transferred to Erickson Construction Company Limited, a subsidiary of M.J. O’Brien Ltd., which was allegedly set up as a “phantom” or “dummy” company to avoid having to clean up the site.
In regard to the Deloro site, on June 15, 1970, George Kerr, then Minister of Energy and Resources, stated in the legislature that, “The government is taking action against the refinery this year…We are getting the necessary evidence with the idea of placing the company under a ministerial order. It is also quite possible that we will prosecute the company.” In 1978, eight years later, the Ontario government finally issued a Control Order against Erickson Construction Company Ltd. requiring the company to take steps to control the discharges of arsenic to the River. Shortly thereafter the company became insolvent and the Ontario government took over the management and control of the site. Erickson Construction existed until 1987 when it was dissolved for failure to pay its corporate taxes.
Even though the Ontario government publicly threatened to prosecute the polluting company in 1970, such a prosecution could not have been successful because the Ontario government had already relieved from all liability, those who had polluted the site after they had reaped vast profits from it. A 1965 Ontario government document reveals that in that year several officials of the Ontario provincial government met with the site’s manager and allowed the company to abandon the site and to escape all liability for its cleanup.
In April 1979, the Ontario government took over control of the Deloro site. The then Minister of the Environment, Mr. Norton, exempted the Ministry’s activities at the site from an environmental assessment under the Environmental Assessment Act because of the injury or damage caused by the delays that an environmental assessment would bring about.
To this day the heavy metals contamination is still damaging two fish streams. The radioactive emissions, both on and off the site, pose significant health and safety risks to humans and the environment.