Mining contaminants: Indigenous people want Americans to take a hard line

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Mining contaminants: Indigenous people want Americans to take a hard line

First Nations chiefs on both sides of the border say they are concerned about contamination of water from British Columbia mines. (Archives)

Indigenous leaders from Canada and the United States want the US government to press Ottawa to launch a joint investigation into mining contaminant spills in British Columbia.

A delegation of First Nations and conservationists met with members of Congress and government officials for two days.

Indigenous communities in British Columbia and the US states of Washington, Idaho and Montana have suffered for several years from toxin spills into watersheds from coal mining in the Elk Valley .

Mining giant Teck Resources has already spent $1.2 billion to address this problem. Teck plans to invest an additional $750 million over the next two years, says spokesman Chris Stannell.

The company notes that this project is already listed among the most collaborative water quality management programs on the planet. Added to this is a water treatment program and mitigation measures that she says have already demonstrated their effectiveness.

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    Mr. Janssen wants to be clear: Indigenous groups do not want an end to mining activities in the Interior region of British Columbia. Nor are they seeking to attract media attention by organizing protests or setting up barricades.

    They fear that the boom in mining activities in Colombia British Columbia is worsening environmental problems in their traditional territories, notably in Alaska, where open pit gold and copper mines are threatening salmon.

    We recognize that Teck is trying to keep the water clean after using it in coal processing, but it's not willing to share its data, says Rich Janssen. When we carry out tests on the American side, we see an increase in the level of selenium. This is already having consequences in our waters.

    The coalition hopes that pressure from US federal authorities will convince Canada to participate in a bilateral investigation under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty.

    Rich Janssen blames Canada for drag their feet on this issue. It feels like Canada doesn't want to go that route. It creates obstruction.

    The Canadian Embassy in Washington met with the delegation on Wednesday. She said only that the meeting allowed for a constructive discussion on the impacts of mining activities. Canadian officials say they hope to continue their commitments.

    In June, the US Department of State solidified the coalition's position by reaffirming its support for a joint investigation into the repercussions cross-border mining activities in Canada.

    A bilateral agreement to examine the problem filled the need for impartial recommendations and transparent communication, said the secretariat of x27;State.

    The Canadian government will put in place rules under the Fisheries Act to mitigate the impacts of mining activities in waterways, says Samantha Bayard, a spokeswoman for the Department of Fisheries. ;Environment and Climate Change.

    These measures will include the establishment of a national database of quality standards for harmful substances such as selenium, Bayard said. The federal government also says it is examining a variety of solutions to mitigate cross-border pollution.

    On Friday, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced a new federal policy on critical minerals, such as lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper and rare earth elements.

    This sector represents a generational opportunity for Canada, said Minister Wilkinson. He further pledged a meaningful and continued partnership with Indigenous peoples to achieve Canada's ambitious climate and nature conservation goals.

    Canada will however, solve old problems before creating new ones, says Robin Irwin, director of Upper Similkameen's Department of Natural Resources.

    Before launching the x27;operating these big surface mines, when will you clean up the hundreds of mess you've already created, he asks.

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