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Gold Mines

Nova Scotians Advised
To Avoid Gold Tailings

Nova Scotians are advised to avoid exposure to material known as tailings leftover from gold mining in the province in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The tailings are sand-like deposits of crushed arsenopyrite and other rock from which gold was extracted. The deposits include arsenic from the crushed rock and mercury that was used in the mining process. Tailings were dumped near mine sites.

There is not likely any significant risk to Nova Scotians associated with these tailing sites. They are generally in remote locations and many are on Crown land. There is no current evidence of Nova Scotians becoming ill from mercury or arsenic from tailings.

Nova Scotians near gold mine tailings can reduce exposure by practicing habits that are always recommended, regardless of proximity to tailings:
-- test well water and if arsenic is present, install treatment technology and continue testing to ensure it's working
-- wash hands frequently and before eating
-- wash fruits and vegetables before eating, whether they're from the grocery store or a private garden
-- follow freshwater fish advisories, which have been recommended for more than 15 years, to reduce mercury intake
-- follow any closures of recreational shellfish harvesting areas

Other measures that people should take are:
-- don't let children play around tailings
-- don't use tailings as fill for driveways, gardens or children's sandboxes
-- remove shoes after being outdoors near tailings, so soil won't be tracked into the house

A group of provincial and federal government experts has been established to further investigate potential health and environmental risks of tailings. The group is co-ordinated by the Department of Environment and Labour.

The group was established in response to a recently released study. The study was conducted by Natural Resources Canada as part of its national Metals in the Environment program. The study showed that levels of arsenic and mercury in the tailings are higher than previously thought.

The study also showed that wind or water erosion has moved some of the tailings from their original sites. One example is the beach at Seal Harbour, Guysborough County. At the recommendation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has closed this beach to recreational clam digging.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will work with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada to test other marine environments.

The group of experts is continuing to research the tailings sites.

A map of gold mining districts is available on Environment and Labour's website at
www.gov.ns.ca/enla/goldmines. Photos of tailings and other information are also on this site to help Nova Scotians in gold mining districts determine if they may have tailings on their properties.

Nova Scotians who have reason to think they may have tailings on or near their properties or who have other questions can call the provincial public inquiries line at 902-424-5200 in Halifax Regional Municipality or 1-800-670-4357. Calls will be directed to the appropriate federal or provincial agency for response.
(Release from Nova Scotia Department of Labour & Environment, June 23, 2005)

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