Northern DEW Line cleanup bill hits $500M

It's taken 15 years and nearly a half a billion dollars, but the curtain is coming down on one of Canada's largest environmental cleanup projects.
The DEW Line system of early warning radar sites was abandoned in the 1980s. (CBC)

It's taken 15 years and nearly a half a billion dollars, but the curtain is beginning to come down on one of Canada's largest environmental cleanup projects. 

By the end of the summer, cleanup at 19 of 21 abandoned Distant Early Warning Line radar sites across the North will have been completed, according to the Department of National Defence.

The DEW Line was set up across the Canadian Arctic in the 1950s because of fears of a Soviet attack. When the Cold War ended in the 1980s, the sites were abandoned, but hundreds of thousands of tonnes of material that had been shipped in remained, along with chemically-contaminated soil.

During a tour last week of the Fox 2 DEW line site on Baffin Island, David Eagles, the retired Canadian Forces lieutenant-colonel who is in charge of the cleanup operation, said the change on the site has been remarkable.

"As we drive around you don't see old barrels beside the road, you don't see cables beside the road, all you see is what looks like more natural terrain — rock and tundra," Eagles said.

Nunavut Tunngavik representative George Qulaut, who made the tour of Fox 2 with officials and elders from Hall Beach and Igloolik, says Inuit are happy the land is finally being reclaimed. 

"We have fought so hard to have a lot of [this] debris cleaned up, especially the contaminants, chemicals and PCBs and all the other toxins that we have — especially for the environment and animals," he said.

DND says it will monitor the DEW-line sites for 25 years to make sure they remain clean and safe. 


With files from Nicole Ireland