(Kam Lake outside Yellowknife has unsafe levels of arsenic. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)
APTN National News
The department of Health in the Northwest Territories is now conducting it’s own arsenic testing of lakes around Yellowknife.
The lakes are contaminated because of former gold mining operations.
Robert Jenkins, director of water resources at the department of Environment and Natural Resources said that the government has done their own testing this week in response to concerns over the lake.
“We work closely with other departments and we want to make sure that communication lines are clear,” he said. “We sampled seven locations in Kam Lake, sampling for metals including arsenic. The samples are in for laboratory analysis and we expect to get results back in a few weeks.”
Jenkins said the sampling will further compliment the publically-available data from Miramar and that the department may extend sampling into the summer months.
Kam Lake, located in the industrial area of Yellowknife has dangerous levels of arsenic – 25 times over Health Canada’s standard for drinking water.
The lake is in close proximity to the now-dormant Con Mine site and is not used for public drinking water.
The health department within the government of the Northwest Territories was in the dark about arsenic reports and current testing showing high levels of arsenic in lakes around Yellowknife.
For five years, Miramar Northern Mining has been testing Kam Lake for arsenic in a remediation project.
There is also a report dating back to 1989, that shows the same.
The Northwest Territories Health Department was unaware that the water was being tested and only recently was made aware of the old report.
Last week, Dr. Andre Corriveau, Northwest Territories’ chief public health officer issued an advisory stating that Kam Lake possessed over 50 times the recommended level of arsenic in the water.
That data came from a recently discovered report that goes back to 1989.
Kieron Testart, MLA for Kam Lake, told APTN that he has heard from several concerned organizations over the past week regarding the arsenic update.
“This is something that slipped through the health advisory and that should have not been the case,” said Kieron. “When you have people living around this lake in very close proximity. It’s no fault of the remediation. The problem is the government didn’t know when the questions were being asked and I think that is rather negligent on the part of the government.”
Corriveau told APTN that last week’s advisory was issued before he was made aware of the publically-available data.
“Because of Miramar’s water license they have to do annual testing but I wasn’t aware of that. Although it is publically available it isn’t like they publicize it, so we didn’t have it on file. Since we have it now we will update our map,” Corriveau said.
The data is available on the website of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board’s website. The group functions as an advisory board made up of local Indigenous representatives.
Arsenic trioxide from abandoned gold mines is a huge problem in the Yellowknife area.
Kam Lake now joins a long list of purple dots on the government’s map of contaminated bodies of water in the area.
Still, the lake is used by used by dog mushing companies, and for longtime dog mushers like Grant Beck the news doesn’t come as a surprise.
“I knew this level was high when we came to this industrial area and that was part of the reason why all of the mushers came to this area, but I’d be interested to see what level it is at now with further research,” he said.
The latest sample results taken from May to October 2016 show arsenic levels ranged from 194 to 288 parts per billion. While this is lower than the 500 parts per billion noted last week’s public health advisory it is well over the 10 parts per billion marked as the minimum for safe drinking water.
The government has since updated its public map showing Kam Lake as contaminated, but there is no word on when signs warning of the contamination will be posted.
Corriveau and Testart both noted that all new information will be considered and the government will conduct their own set of water testing for Kam Lake.
“We would not advise that people go and swim on a regular basis because there is always a chance you could swallow water. We also recommend that if you fish there you catch-and-release,” Corriveau said.
While last week’s public health advisory provides link to arsenic facts and safety precautions, there are no signs posted around Kam Lake outlining the human risk from recreational use.