Take a tour around N.W.T.'s notoriously toxic Giant Mine

Giant Mine closed almost two decades ago, and is now preparing to go into its cleanup phase. CBC got to tour the site this week and see what it looks like during its care and maintenance phase.

Toxic pools of water, rusty stockpiles of debris, 360 seacans of poisonous material part of media tour

The media toured around Giant Mine on Sept. 21, 2018. Photographed here is a danger sign, as members of the media are guided by the mine's remediation project deputy director. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

The Northwest Territories' Giant Mine closed almost two decades ago, and its cleanup project team wants to get cracking on its cleanup phase.

    More than decade ago, the remediation project team applied for a Type A Water Licence for its cleanup plan. It was rejected, and it took until 2014 until its environmental assessment was accepted. 

    Now, an updated application for a water licence to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board will be submitted in January 2019, according to the project's deputy director, Natalie Plato.

    It includes an updated draft on how it's going to close and cleanup the remaining areas of concern — like its toxic mine water pumped up from underground and its chambers filled with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of poison.

    If all goes well, the actual cleanup led by U.S.-based company Parsons will begin after 2020, says Plato.

    CBC News was one of handful of media that got to tour the site Friday and see what the notorious mine looks like during its care and maintenance phase. Join reporter Priscilla Hwang as she moves around the mine's maze and makes pit stops at tailings ponds (wet storage areas for contaminated waste), the water treatment plant, open pits and its underground arsenic freezing areas among other structures.

    A member of the Giant Mine remediation project stands in front of 'the mill.' This is where larger rocks containing gold were ground into smaller pieces. The mill is the biggest structure remaining on site. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    After the rocks were crushed into smaller pieces at the mill, pictured here, they were sent to 'the roaster' building which used to be located in the empty area on the right. The gold was separated from the rock using high temperatures at the roaster. This process is what released the arsenic, which mixed with oxygen to create the toxic arsenic trioxide. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    There are piles of rusted metals, pipes, wood and debris scattered throughout Giant Mine. The cleanup project proposal says a non-hazardous waste landfill will be constructed at the site, which will eventually house non-hazardous waste like debris from demolished buildings, equipment and double-bagged asbestos waste. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    Rows of shipping containers sit on top of each other in the distance on a landscape that is sand and dirt. There is some machine that sits in the front.
    Here are rows and rows of about 360 shipping containers, filled with the toxic remnants of the roaster building which was heavily coated in arsenic trioxide dust. These shipping containers will eventually be buried underground, according to the remediation project's deputy director Natalie Plato. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    A tailings pond, which is covered in contaminated soil and material, has a tinge of green from a dust suppressant used to keep arsenic-infused soil from blowing off site. There are about four ponds like this one across the site. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    This crystal blue pond is meltwater from rain and snow that naturally occurred on the mine site, and moved here. "We want to make sure any water that touches arsenic is contained and diverted to our treatment system," explained a spokesperson with the cleanup project. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    The mine pumped close to 400,000 cubic metres of water from underground this past year, estimates Plato. That water is contaminated and can't be released into the environment, so a treatment system removes arsenic and other toxins from the water. The red residue in this pond is from the iron the mine uses to treat the water. Eventually, the plan is to create a new, year-round water treatment plant that will help the treated water meet drinking-water quality. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    This is Baker Creek. All of the mine's treated water eventually flows here. Then the treated water is released into Yellowknife Bay. Although the creek's water is treated, it's not safe enough to swim in it, says the project's deputy director. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    These black pipes run throughout the mine site. They carry water around, bringing it to the current treatment plant. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    These tall, u-shaped tubes are called thermosyphons. These bars surround one underground chamber that was frozen as a pilot study launched in 2011. There are more than a dozen underground chambers around the site, containing 237,000 tonnes of arsenic dust all together. One teaspoon is enough to kill a person. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    This particular freezing method doesn't use any external power, It uses carbon dioxide to suck out the heat from the ground and dissipates the heat into the atmosphere. Inside this rectangular area between the tall thermosyphon tubes, the frozen chamber sits about 30 metres below. Temperatures can go down to -5 C, and can even reach -30 C, according to Plato. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
    Abandoned homes that used to be occupied by mine workers. Plato estimates they were last used in the 1990s. The dilapidated houses with broken windows are across from Yellowknife's Back Bay. These, too, will be part of the site's approximately 85 buildings that will be demolished and removed. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)