SEPT ÎLES, QC: IRON ORE-CONTAMINATED WATER SPILLS INTO BAY
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By Michelle Moore
On June 2 a large amount of iron ore-contaminated water spilled into the Bay of Sept-Îles, at the site of the Rio Tinto Iron Ore Company mining company's wharf. The site of Rio Tinto IOC mining operations is considered to be one of the most significant sites of contamination in the province.
Sept-Îles is located in the Côte-Nord region of Québec where the bay feeds into the St. Lawrence River. It is the most populous northern city and one of the last to be connected to the rest of the province by road.
Last Saturday hundreds of gallons of iron ore-contaminated water sank into the bay during cleanup operations on the wharf. Part of the bay took on a bright red colour from the iron that stood out from the rest of the dark blue water.
Employees of Rio Tinto IOC were using high pressure washers to clean the wharf of the iron ore dust and fragments that regularly accumulate during transhipment operations on ships.
Usually the water is collected and treated but instead a lot of the water leaked through expansion joints at the wharf. An employee of Urgence Environnement quickly intervened to demand a stoppage of work.
The mining company reacted Monday afternoon. Spokeswoman Claudine Gagnon says the clean-up was halted as soon as the teams in place were made aware of the situation, "certainly we will review the situation, the task, the way it is done. Of course, we are in contact with the authorities to make sure it does not happen again."
It is unclear for the moment whether or not the company will be given a fine by the provincial
Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change.
This is not the first time that mining operations at sites near the Bay of Sept-Îles have resulted in contaminants spilling into the bay and the St. Lawrence River. In the fall of 2013, a spill at Cliffs Natural Resources resulted in 450 000 litres of heavy fuel oil flowing into the bay and contaminating between 8 to 10 kilometres of ocean surface.
This reporter reached out to Spokesperson Louise Gagnon for Le Regroupement Pour la Sauvegarde de la Grande Baie de Sept-Îles, a citizen group dedicated to protecting the bay.
Gagnon explained that the company was supposed to have changed the way they do their clean-up operations following an Office of Public Hearings on the Environment concerning the dredging program of the bay and the maintenance of port facilities. The report and its series of recommendations was released in June 2015.
She said "it was one of the problems that was brought up at the hearings, the question of the iron content in the bay but also on the IOC wharf because iron pellets were found in an important quantity ... It's becoming a worry, the quantity of iron in the bay of Sept-Îles."
Gagnon said it's not new and that preoccupation about the effect on marine life due was discussed at the hearings.
About what happened Saturday, Gagnon said "it shouldn't be done anymore, I don't understand why it was. It's the old way of doing things ... cleaning off the wharf with a hose. It's been a while since we've heard of them doing it this way, why they went back to this old way of doing things I can't say."
She said "minerals often find their way into the bay but aren't always such a striking colour ... it will take a while before things change."