The Northwest Territories’ chief public health officer is urging caution for workers at the Giant Mine cleanup site.
Dr. Andre Corriveau says regular exposure to arsenic can have deadly consequences.
Thirty-one workers at the site have already shown high levels of arsenic trioxide, a highly toxic compound found in abundance at the old Giant mine.
The employees who had elevated levels of it in their bodies had been working in the most contaminated area at the site.
Corriveau warns that long-term exposure to arsenic can cause cancer.
“Many of the employees are likely going to be working on site for several years,” he says. “Even at low doses, arsenic can be a carcinogen, so a cause for cancer if you're exposed for an ongoing basis for several years."
The employees who tested high for arsenic wear two body suits, a respirator mask, and two pairs of gloves when they're working on site.
Corriveau says improper hygiene or misuse of this equipment can be dangerous.
“Arsenic can cause strong irritation if you're exposed on your skin or if it gets into your eyes. If you breathe it in, it can cause an irritation in your lungs. That's why the protective equipment is critical so that these incidents don't occur.”
None of the 31 workers who had elevated levels of the toxin got sick this past year.
And no claims have been filed with the Workers Safety and Compensation Commission.
However, some of the 31 workers showed elevated levels of the toxin repeatedly.
Site officials plan to increase safety training when the cleanup resumes in the spring.