New Hampshire geologist Christopher Covel says he feels “vindicated” by an interim report provincial on heavy metal contamination of fish in lakes near Ouje-Bougoumou.
The study, titled “Metal, PCB, Dioxin and Furan Concentrations in Fish and Sediments from Four Lakes in Northern Quebec in 2001,” was prepared by Denis Laliberté and Gaby Tremblay of the Quebec environment ministry and released Oct. 21 in Ouje-Bougoumou.
It found contaminants exceeding allowable levels near the Copper Rand mine.
Sediments in the mine’s drainage basin contained high levels of arsenic, cadmium, copper, nickel and zinc. Sites near the mine showed the highest concentrations for these metals, said the report.
“Their report confirmed my report, without question,” said Covel. “Basically, when they complete their data collection there will be no question that the contamination comes from the mine.” Still, the provincial study strangely refused to point to the mine as the source of these contaminants, saying “it was not possible to precisely distinguish the proportion of metals natural in origin from the proportion of metals anthropic in origin [native to the region].” Covel says the province is trying to downplay the mine as the source. “It’s crystal clear the contaminants are from the mine,” he said. “It’s not from background levels.”
It also said the study said elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium, copper, nickel and zinc found in sediments near mine tailings sites were not found in the lakes’ fish populations. Levels in fish flesh were similar to those found in fish measured in the study’s reference lake of Lac Waconichi, it said, meaning they were weak or below the detection limit.
Elsewhere, the study said no PCBs were detected in sediments of Lac Chibougamau or Lac Aux Dorés. The study had no data from Lac Obatagamau, where the Joe Mann mine is situated.
As for mercury, the study said the data did not show that mining has caused an increase in mercury levels in fish. In the four studied lakes, the average mercury levels for walleye, northern pike and lake trout were lower or equal to the Quebec average.
Covel thinks the mercury data is a red herring. “The keep talking about mercury,” he notes. “That’s not the problem. Mercury is ubiquitous in the northern hemisphere. The problem is arsenic and other heavy metals associated with it, and the contamination of the water system and the food chain.” The study says its results show fish in the four lakes are not contaminated with heavy metals, and what contamination exists is limited to mercury. It does recommend continued monitoring of PCB levels in lake trout at Lac Aux Dorés and Lac Chibougamau.
But it does show concern for the area near the Copper Rand mine. “The toxins in one mining effluent and the elevated levels of certain metals in sediments near tailing sites at Lac Aux Dorés and Lac Chibougamau are likely to cause toxicity for aquatic organisms and thus constitute a concern.” Covel says the continued emphasis placed on “effluent” is another attempt at misdirection. “The mine tailings are the source of the contamination,” he repeats. They’re from the mine.”