Nfld. & Labrador

Fear in Buchans over risk of poisoning

Some residents of Buchans, a former mining town in central Newfoundland grappling with news of dangerously high levels of toxic substances in the soil, say they worry about what test results will reveal.

Some residents of Buchans, a former mining town in central Newfoundland grappling with news of dangerously high levels of toxic substances in the soil, say they worry about what more test results will reveal.

"We don't know what, what we're in for, yet," said Shirley Thorne, a mother who is considering leaving Buchans now that government tests have shown the old mine, on an eight-kilometre stretch around the perimeter of the community, is contaminated.

Every resident of the community has been urged to have blood taken and tested for exposure.

Buchans is built around an old lead and zinc mine that shut down in the 1980s.

Tests done on the soil in the area during the summer found dangerously high levels of lead, along with nine other toxic substances, including arsenic, copper and uranium.

The lead is what most concerns officials. It is toxic to many organs and tissues, including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, reproductive system and nervous system. It's especially toxic to children and can cause permanent learning and behavioural disorders.

Thorne said she moved to Buchans to raise her children in a peaceful town. Now she wonders if her oldest son's health has already been affected.

"He's actually already [had] some medical conditions, and he played in that mud, in the mucky ditch, as we call it, since he was old enough to walk there."

Provincial health officials caution that it's too soon to say if the lead is linked to any illnesses in the town, but all of the community's 800 residents are being urged to have their blood tested for lead poisoning.

Catherine Brennan, who is in her 70s, played in the mud as a child, and said she has felt no ill effects, but Brennan said the site should be cleaned up.

"It should be cleared up, for the youngsters' sake, now, today," she said. "Not [for] my sake, because we're finished with it."

The provincial government has committed to spending millions remediating the site. Work is expected to start in the spring.