North

Mary River Mine's iron ore dust concerns local hunters in Nunavut

Hunters in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, say that iron ore dust from the Mary River Mine is discolouring the land around Milne Inlet, deterring animals and making it hard to get clean water when people are camping.

Baffinland says dust happens, expansion would see more mitigation

Iron ore dust colours the snow around a seal breathing hole near the Mary River Mine. Hunters from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, are concerned the red dust is contaminating the water and land. (Submitted by Enookie Inuaraq)

Hunters in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, say that iron ore dust from the Mary River Mine is discolouring the land around Milne Inlet, deterring animals and making it hard to get clean water when people are camping.

But Baffinland — which owns the mine — says it monitors the dust and that the iron content in waters near the mine isn't any higher than it was before it opened.

While travelling back to Pond Inlet from Igloolik recently from a caribou hunt, Enookie Inuaraq took some photos of how the dust made a red film around a seal hole. 

Inuaraq is with the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization. He says he's also seen the red dust on animals like ptarmigan and foxes.

"The dust is getting large," he told CBC News. "The place is fairly far, you can see that it is red, it even looks like blood from the dust."

The residue meant he couldn't make water from the snow for cooking or for tea because he was concerned the snow was contaminated.

Although dust is visible, it doesn't necessarily mean it's harmful.- Megan Lord-Hoyle, Baffinland vice-president of sustainable development

"Baffinland has to make changes how they let go of red dust everywhere," he said in Inuktitut. "The geese used to be seen in the area — now, there is hardly any geese. Baffinland has to do something with the dust." 

Inuaraq says others have complained in recent years about the dust to wildlife officers, Baffinland and to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

Dust happens when you mine, Baffinland says  

Baffinland told CBC on Wednesday that it has always been open with communities about dust, and how it's a reality of operating a mine. The dust comes from blasting, trucking and stockpiling iron ore. 

"Throughout the environmental assessment process for this mine, we've always shared that dust would be produced as a result of the mine," said Megan Lord-Hoyle, vice-president of sustainable development for Baffinland.

She said the company reached out to Inuaraq to learn more about his observations, adding that iron ore levels in the water around the Mary River site are the same as they were before production began. 

"We are monitoring the dust and its impact on the environment and we know that right now, that we're not seeing a negative impact on the environment itself, which would include marine mammals," Lord-Hoyle said. "Although dust is visible, it doesn't necessarily mean it's harmful."

Baffinland wants to switch to a railway and indoor crushing site that will help reduce dust, she said.

It's still waiting for approval to build that infrastructure through an environmental review from the Nunavut Impact Review Board. 

That review is on hold right now, because of cancelled meetings that followed the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With files from Toby Otak, Salome Avva, Juanita Taylor

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