Contaminated sites

What is the Contaminated Sites program?

The Contaminated Sites program of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) is responsible for carrying out the assessment and remediation of abandoned contaminated sites that fall under the responsibility of the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT).

What are the different types of contaminated sites in the NWT?

During negotiations to finalize the NWT Land and Resources Devolution Agreement, the GNWT and Canada decided which government would be responsible for various contaminated sites in the Northwest Territories (NWT). A number of sites were transferred to the GNWT, while others remained under federal jurisdiction.

The Devolution Agreement sets out five categories of contaminated sites in the NWT:

  1. Released sites are sites that were transferred to the GNWT through Devolution on April 1, 2014 and are now the responsibility of the GNWT.

  2. Remediated sites are sites that were transferred through Devolution to the GNWT on April 1, 2014 and are now the responsibility of the GNWT, with warranties from Canada in place.

  3. Excepted waste sites are sites on GNWT land that were identified for additional negotiations between Canada and the GNWT. Financial liabilities for these sites were not transferred to the GNWT. These sites include Ptarmigan Mine, Tin Mine, Tom Mine, Crestaurum Mine, Rodstrom Mine and Burwash Mine.

  4. Sites requiring remediation are sites on Canada’s land that will not be transferred to the GNWT until remediated by Canada and the GNWT agrees to accept the sites.

  5. Operating sites are sites on GNWT land, however there is the possibility to transfer the liability back to Canada if the operator no longer exists and there is environmental liability associated with the site. If liabilities are identified with abandoned Operating Sites, the GNWT may open negotiations by March 31, 2019 with Canada on the assignment of the liability and the remediation of the site.

In addition to these Devolution Agreement sites, GNWT departments have their own contaminated sites related to activities that were carried out on GNWT lands prior to Devolution.

What is the remediation process for contaminated sites in the NWT?

There is an internal process by which GNWT-owned contaminated sites are assessed and remediated. This process is based on regulations established by the GNWT and regulatory boards.

  1. Identification of a contaminated site – Once contamination is discovered, the owner or individual in charge of the property is required to file a spill report to the 24-Hour Spill Report Line. Federal and territorial government departments and the Inuvialuit Land Administration (ILA) are notified and a lead agency is assigned jurisdiction over the remediation.
  2. Phase I Environmental Site Assessment – The owner hires a contractor to conduct a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) to identify actual and potential site contamination. Results are then submitted to the lead agency for approval and/or comment.
  3. Phase II Environmental Site Assessment – The owner hires a contractor to conduct a Phase II ESA to confirm the presence of contaminants at the site, including identification and delineation of substances of concern. Results are submitted to the lead agency.
  4. Identify remediation criteria – The owner works with community, territorial and and/or federal governments to determine suitable land use options for the area and to develop appropriate remediation criteria. Possible land uses include agricultural, residential/parkland, commercial and industrial.
  5. Develop Remedial Action Plan – The owner reviews the remediation criteria for the site and prepares a RAP for the site. These plans require lead agency approval before remediation can take place.
  6. Implement Remedial Action Plan – The owner proceeds with carrying out the remediation activities identified in the RAP and submits regular monitoring reports to the lead agency. The owner must identify if activities deviate from the plan.
  7. Develop closure report – Once the requirements of the RAP are met, the owner must submit a closure report to the lead agency. If accepted, a letter will be issued advising that no further remediation is required.

How does the GNWT prioritize the remediation of its contaminated sites?

The GNWT decides which contaminated sites to prioritize based on levels of risk to people, property and the environment.

The risk of each contaminated site is reviewed annually, taking the following criteria into account for each site:

  • Human health and safety
  • Financial and legal obligations
  • Impacts on the environment
  • Concerns of Indigenous peoples, northern residents and stakeholders

Consequences for each criteria are identified, and the severity and likelihood of these consequences are determined. This analysis establishes the risk level for a site.  

Sites ranked high and medium risk are priority to action for the responsible GNWT department. Action on high risk sites should occur as soon as possible. Action on medium risk sites should occur within 2 to 3 years.