Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut April 12, 2011 - 8:35 am

Mary River iron mine to produce dust, noise, vibration

Huge iron mine will also double Nunavut’s greenhouse gas emissions

This map from the draft environmental impact statement on the Mary River iron ore project shows the projected noise levels at Steensby Port, which will be more intense at the centre of activities.
This map from the draft environmental impact statement on the Mary River iron ore project shows the projected noise levels at Steensby Port, which will be more intense at the centre of activities.

Construction, airline flights, mining, ore crushing and screening, rail transport and marine shipping at the future Mary River iron mine will affect air quality and cause noise and vibration in and around the mine in northern Baffin Island.

But you won’t see, feel or at least immediately notice one of the largest impacts on air quality from the Mary River mine: an increase in the amount of climate-warming greenhouse gases from the use of diesel gas, permafrost disturbances, mining, airline flights and shipping.

Because Nunavut’s population and manufacturing base are small, per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the territory are currently very low.

But the Mary River mine would more than double the total amount of greenhouse emissions produced in Nunavut over 2008 levels, says the draft environmental statement on the project, now under review.

Greenhouse gas emissions would increase by 123 per cent over 2008, says the draft EIS, which the Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. delivered to the Nunavut Impact Review Board earlier this year before its buy-out by the steel-making giant ArcelorMittal.

The draft EIS compares the expected greenhouse gas emissions from Mary River with three other northern Canadian mines, Diavik, Ekati and Labrador’s Carol Iron mine.

While the Mary River mine will produce more greenhouse gas emissions than the two diamond mines, the mine is expected to produce less emissions than the Carol Iron mine because Mary River’s higher-grade ore will be put directly on rails and ships without processing.

About half of the Mary River mine’s greenhouse gas emissions will result from burning diesel fuel for electrical power.

Using Environment Canada figures from 2008 as its baseline, the draft EIS says the Mary River mine will annually produce 1.8 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from all Canadian mining operations, .06 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Canada in 2008, and .001 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

On a national level, the greenhouse gas emissions from the project are “very small, and compared with global emissions they are insignificant,” it says.

Close to the mine site, you’ll be able to hear and feel some changes to the air during the 25 years of its construction and operation, according to the draft EIS’s volume five on the topic of “atmospheric environment.”

The Mary River mine site is in a remote location with no existing local sources of industrial noise or vibration, it says.

But that will change if the mine passes its environmental review and permitting and moves into construction as early as 2012.

“The construction and operation of the Project will introduce new, local sources of noise and vibration to the Project area. Noise and vibration have the potential to affect wildlife species and human[s],” the draft EIS says.

Noise guideline limits do not apply to construction activities, and there are no regulations or guidelines in Nunavut to address environmental noise levels.

But the Meadowbank gold project, the Doris North gold project, and the High Lake project use Alberta Energy Resource Conservation Board standards, the draft EIS says.

Noise at the Mary River mine will come from machinery, power generation, waste incineration and from the mining and transportation of ore, supplies and workers.

There will also be an estimated 104 noise and vibration-producing flights per year to the mine site during operation.

As well, there will be four to six train trips per day on the mine’s 150-kilometre-long railway to transport ore from the mine to Steensby Inlet. A passenger train for workers will also operate three times a week. All trains will operate at a speeds ranging between 60 and 70 km per hour.

The predicted average hourly sound levels from the trains’ movement are expected to be “minor and localized due to the intermittent and temporary nature of this source,” says the draft EIS.

“Good management practices are required to reduce the potential for effects,” the draft EIS states. “The conclusion of the assessment is that potential effects of noise and vibration are not significant.”

The Mary River mine will also introduce new, local sources of air contaminants from ore dust and metal particles.

“A reduction in air quality due to these emissions may, in the extreme, result in potential effects to vegetation or wildlife species; an ecosystem’s structure or processes; or human health,” the draft EIS states.

Water and salt applied to the roads will help reduce dust, and many facilities, including those for crushing and sizing ore will be enclosed.

But some accumulation of metals like aluminum, arsenic and cadmium, “within vegetation and other terrestrial organisms tissues is anticipated to occur.”

Local people will still be able to eat the region’s caribou and blueberries, which are “unlikely” to cause “harmful effects to human health.”

“This conclusion is based on consideration of the areas expected to be affected by ore dust deposition, the location of blueberry harvesting areas, and the home range of caribou,” says an appendix to the draft EIS on “exposure potential from ore dusting.”

But this document recommends washing berries or other produce before eating.

“This recommendation is not specifically related to this project, but helps to ensure that food is clean prior to eating,” it says.

Residents of Igloolik, Hall Beach, Coral Harbour, Cape Dorset, Kimmirut, Iqaluit, Clyde River, Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, Resolute and Grise Fiord will have a chance to learn more about the project during NIRB public information meetings scheduled for this month and next.

The first meeting took place April 9 and 10 in Igloolik.

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