The Belleville Intelligencer August 23/2001

Environmental group says arsenic levels too high in Moira River   by Derek Baldwin

An Ontario Court judge has already acquitted the provincial government of allegations it polluted the Moira River by not stopping all arsenic from Deloro Mine from entering the river system.

But Wednesday, the Environmental Bureau of Investigation (EBI) issued a new warning for residents living along the Moira downstream from the Deloro Mine, a site some have described as one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history. EBI is a Kingston-based environmental group.

EBI spokesman Tom Adams said a new battery of tests on the Moira, amid the lowest water levels on record, show arsenic contamination in the river is now seven times the allowable limit under provincial regulations.

Tests measured arsenic levels of up to .36 milligrams per litre (mg/l) over and above the .2 allowed by the Ministry of Environment for the site. In Young’s Creek, just south of the mine site, tests revealed arsenic levels of up to 10.7 mg/l.

Other heavy metals such as cobalt and nickel are also at “dangerous levels,” the tests showed.

The results have prompted Adams to issue an advisory for those living in cottages and homes along a river system frequented every summer by swimming children, boaters and anglers.

“People should be very careful around the water, this is a very severe matter,” said Adams.

The problem is due to drought conditions along the Moira and the small amount of water that is running through the watershed. Low amounts of water can’t dilute arsenic to acceptable levels and arsenic cannot be removed from drinking water sources, he said, without sophisticated equipment.

When the Moira is running quickly, said Adams, with a high volume of water in the spring and fall, the amount of arsenic in the river is reduced.

“There is a logic to this. They (the province) were relying on the river to dilute it. Now there are some spots were the river is hardly flowing at all. One of the concerns is that the arsenic levels are getting up to scary levels,” said Adams.

Despite the fact Ontario courts have shot down private charges laid by EBI against the province, EBI is once again pursuing the province, this time through the environmental commissioner, to conduct an investigation into high arsenic levels.

Arsenic, cobalt and nickel are byproducts of the Deloro Mine’s smeltering process since the 1800s.

The province assumed control of the mine 20 years ago and, despite a treatment plant built on the site by the province, arsenic is still escaping into the Moira River and running downstream.

It’s estimated the clean-up bill to remediate the site will cost provincial taxpayers another $30 million in the years ahead, although many experts say the property will never be cleaned up completely.