Monitoring legacy arsenic in the Yellowknife area

About arsenic monitoring

Arsenic occurs naturally in the earth’s soil and water. Arsenic is also used to make products such as glass, paper, textiles, pesticides, and is sometimes released into the environment through mining activities.

The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT), in collaboration with universities, has conducted monitoring on arsenic in water, sediments, soils and fish in the Yellowknife regions.

The results of this research help to inform the latest public health advisory on Arsenic in Lake Water Around Yellowknife for residents in Yellowknife, issued by the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS).

Human Health Risk Assessment

In partnership with the NWT Regional Office of Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC), a legacy arsenic Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) has been completed to evaluate risk in recreational and traditional use areas around Yellowknife, Ndilo and Dettah. Members of the public and Indigenous governments and organizations expressed concern about what this arsenic might be doing to their health since it is present in areas where they conduct traditional and recreational activities. The purpose of the HHRA was to estimate the potential exposures and evaluate the risk of health effects to people from exposure to contaminants in the environment when using the areas around Yellowknife, Ndilo, and Dettah for both traditional and recreational activities, as well as living in cabins or houses on inland lakes within the area. This HHRA was led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources In partnership with CIRNAC.

For more information on the Human Health Risk Assessment, read our brochure.

Giant Mine Remediation Project - Health Effects Monitoring Program

The Health Effects Monitoring Program will establish current (baseline) levels of arsenic and other contaminants of concern in people's bodies before the cleanup starts. Then, during remediation, the participants will provide samples again. Their new results will be compared to the baseline results. This will help to ensure the remediation activities don't negatively impact people's health.

The University of Ottawa is leading the design and implementation of the program. Community information sessions have been held to provide information about the program and talk about how residents can be involved.

The program is a requirement that came out of the environmental assessment of the remediation plan for Giant Mine. Sampling of toenail clippings and urine from 2000 participants, from age 3 and above from Ndilo, Dettah and Yellowknife started in September 2017, and continued until April 2018. The University of Ottawa provided summary results from the 2017-2018 baseline data in May 2019.

Fish monitoring

The GNWT, Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) is collaborating with the University of Alberta to study metals in large-bodied fish, including arsenic, from several high use and potentially impacted lakes in the Yellowknife area.

The study is being conducted to establish spatial trends in metals in fish. Lakes sampled include Kam Lake, Grace Lake, Long Lake, Upper Martin Lake, Walsh Lake and Banting Lake.

This study was funded by the NWT Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program (NWT CIMP) and POLAR Knowledge Canada and was initiated in March 2016 in collaboration with the ENR Water Resources Division.

Northern Pike and Lake Whitefish were the target species based on species distribution and density. The results of this regional study will give us a better understanding of mercury and other metals in tissue of large-bodies fish.

Fish samples were sent to the University of Alberta and the University of Ottawa for metals analysis.

Sampling is also planned for Chitty Lake and Alexie Lake in Spring 2018. A report will be released publicly in 2019.

Water monitoring

ENR conducted under ice water quality monitoring on April 18, 2017 at Kam Lake and Grace Lake.

Total and dissolved arsenic in water was similar to measurements from 2014 by the University of Ottawa and less than half what was found in 1989-1991.

Average arsenic in Kam Lake and Grace Lake in April 2017 were 240 and 15 ppb respectively. Results are consistent with recent Surveillance Network Program sampling done by Miramar Northern Mining Limited under its existing water licence.

Guidelines for the protection of aquatic life are set at 5 µg/L and Health Canada drinking water guidelines are 10 ppb.

Water sampling was also conducted on Kam Lake and Grace Lake in late May 2017. Results are being reviewed and will be released publicly in the near future. Additional sampling is planned for late August/early September 2017.

Another study, funded through NWT CIMP in collaboration with Carleton University will develop a better understanding of contaminant mobility, particularly arsenic, in Yellowknife area watersheds.

Soil monitoring

ENR, in partnership with Queen’s University, is conducting monitoring to study contaminants in soils near Yellowknife. The study is intended to understand the regional variability in soil geochemistry in an area impacted by legacy industrial activity.

More information