North Baffin residents call for investigation into Mary River mine

Complainants say dust spread “is widespread and destructive”

Eleven North Baffin residents allege that iron ore dust released by the operations of Baffinland’s Mary River mine is causing environmental damage. (Photo courtesy of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A group of North Baffin residents is calling for Nunavut’s environment minister to investigate the spread of iron ore dust from the Mary River mine.

Sworn statements by some of the residents allege the dust, released by the operations of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp, “is widespread and destructive, killing vegetation, impacting on animal life and interfering with water sources for animals and humans.”

“The contamination is spreading across North Baffin and is extensive enough that it is visible in satellite imagery,” the documents submitted to the territory’s environment minister say.

Some of the 11 complainants are members of Nuluujaat Land Guardians, who recently blockaded the Mary River mine, while others are supporters, according to a news release issued by the group on Monday.

Under the territory’s Environmental Rights Act, residents may apply to have the territory’s environment minister, Joe Savikataaq, investigate suspected cases of environmental contamination.

The minister has 90 days to provide the applicants with a progress report. Savikataaq can also end the investigation if he thinks there is no threat.

Savikataaq, who is also the territory’s environment minister in addition to being premier, confirmed he received the applications.

“Government of Nunavut officials are reviewing the applications and I will be responding promptly,” Savikataaq told Nunatsiaq News.

The complainants allege that “the company knows of and neglects or refuses to remedy this escape of contaminants.”

Baffinland disputes this.

Heather Smiles, the company’s manager of stakeholder relations, said the Mary River mine is “one of the most environmentally sustainable iron ore operations in the industry” and that it was “designed in accordance with some of the highest standards anywhere in the world.”

Smiles said that the release of dust is an expected part of open-pit mining, and the company tracks and assesses the spread of dust each year.

Baffinland has made efforts to reduce the spread of dust since operations began, Smiles said, including adding covers to crushing and loading equipment and spraying water on roads to keep dust down.

“Baffinland constantly evaluates opportunities to further mitigate dust and implements adaptive management strategies that consider feedback from communities,” she said in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

Baffinland is seeking permission to build a 110-kilometre railroad from the Mary River mine to Milne Inlet as part of plans to double its output to 12 million tonnes of iron ore per year.

The company says it needs to expand its mining operation to make it financially viable. It’s also said that its expansion plans would reduce the spread of dust.

Smiles said that the use of trains may reduce dust by 76 per cent from what was measured in 2019, and crushing ore for a second time indoors rather than outdoors, could reduce dust at the Milne Inlet site by 77 per cent from what was measured in 2019.

The spread of dust was one of the concerns raised by Qikiqtani Inuit Association president PJ Akeeagok in a recent interview with Nunatsiaq News. QIA recently announced it would oppose Baffinland’s expansion plans.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board’s final hearing into Baffinland’s proposed mine expansion was extended prior to the close of the Jan. 25 to Feb 6. session.

The next hearing session is planned for April 12 to 21 in Iqaluit, with five members from each affected community allowed to join. The first four days will be allocated to finish the technical session, then the last five days will be held for a community roundtable.

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by Butthole Surfer on

    Given what seems to be his aversion to serious decision making, and basically passing the buck, this must be a stressful spot for Savikataaq to find himself in. It’s not like he can hand this off to the CPHO or NTI, or can he? So curious to see what he does (or who he hands this off too).

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    • Posted by NunaLawyer on

      There is no need to wait for the Premier.

      The Environmental Rights Act, section 6.1, says “Every person resident in Nunavut has
      the right to protect the environment and
      the public trust from the release of contaminants by commencing an action in the
      Nunavut Court of Justice against any person releasing any contaminant into the environment. “

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      • Posted by NunaLogic on

        So, it seems like the real issue is establishing the veracity of that claim. Has that been done yet? If so I am unaware of it. Would like to hear more.

    • Posted by Mine worker on

      What about all the locals , who have good paying jobs at the mine ?

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  2. Posted by Iqalumiuta on

    Go Green peace canada help protect are peoples way of life and the animals and mammals .

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  3. Posted by Paul on

    The GN should be doing so much more in a lot of areas and one of them is to help build capacity in Nunavut to take on jobs in mining, trade schools to get the required training and certificates.
    Why is it the GN has a hard time with being proactive? Only when they have to finally do something this for example they finally get involved (hopefully). Just so reactive.

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  4. Posted by PJ on

    Not only the dust. They should already be investigating the rail way land that was already started without approval. Messing with our land, entitled. That was just wrong.

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  5. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    I’ll admit right off that I’ve never worked for NASA, or Spacex (aka I’m not a rocket scientist) but I have lived in dusty places in the north, and in the south for that matter.
    .
    In the south people finally got fed up with all the trucks losing sand, gravel, large chunks of rock, etc. on the highways and roads. Rocks especially were a problem as cars and trucks would kick them up into windshields freaking people out, causing millions in repairs, and leading to accidents where people died.
    .
    So we got the provincial government to require that all trucks carrying lose material had to have a tarp to prevent things from falling out. Most of the dump trucks have a system that retracts the tarp for loading and then automatically deploys it for transport. It’s not perfect but it does cut way down on the loss of material and helps keep the roads clear of rocks and dust.
    .
    When checking Google image for “Mary River haul trucks” none of the pictures showed the trucks with tarps. Everything was open top.
    .
    Now it may cost a few bucks to retrofit the trucks, and there will be some wear and tear and some idiots will forget to deploy or retract their tarps, but isn’t this something that Baffinland should do right now, proactively if it hasn’t been done already?
    .
    Other than that, I’m sure glad that the company tracks and assesses the spread of dust each year. Now if only they would do something about it!

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    • Posted by It’s the road on

      There is little to no dust from the rock chunks IN the truck. Dust is 99% from the tires kicking up dust from the road.

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      • Posted by monty sling on

        That’s way railroad is so feasible as tire dust solution to wide spreading of red dust. Rio Tinto in making of SA mines.

  6. Posted by Nunavummiu on

    Nunavut is connected with many public attraction that has to protect all of nunavut such as this, or other things fishing, culture, language, our elders friends may not be here to guide us, but we got each other.

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  7. Posted by Oscare on

    It is just raw natural dust frm natural earth material. It never hit the plant yet for refining. U get dust frm gravel roads, gravel runways, r u gunna stop that? Dump trucks can be equipped with a tarp to prevent dust or debris frm flying off the trucks. Easy solution for a minor problem. No need to get bent outta shape

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    • Posted by boris pasternak on

      MRP interest comment for sure. Shares? Executive salary?

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  8. Posted by wow44 on

    To spray paint an already red tinted native Artic fox fluorescent orange is truly heartbreaking. A mine can exist….Baffinland must not.

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  9. Posted by Cocern on

    Why is it that only affected communities being selected to attend this session? I would think everyone who was involved in this First roundtable should still have their say.

  10. Posted by Norther Baffin on

    Not ALL North Baffin wants the invesitgation,, its too bad the “groups of people”, whom we can verify in the 2 communities to be very close, are pulling the strings and the media thinks its all north baffin….

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