Project Description

Environment Canada is currently undertaking a 10-year review of the Metal Mines Effluent Regulations (MMER) that guide the effluent deposition activities of the 105 metal mines active in 2010. Roughly 60 new mines are in various stages of approval and will be added to the program in coming years. In 2010, the metal mining sector was in compliance with limits for arsenic, copper, nickel, zinc, radium 226 and pH 99% of the time (Metal Mining Effluent Regulation 10-year Review: Discussion Paper, 2012). One of the purposes of the 10-year Review is to determine whether these regulations are protecting the downstream environment.

To answer this question, mines regulated by the MMER must undertake studies of the receiving environment periodically in order to determine whether there are effects on the receiving environment, even when the mines are in compliance. In particular, the program addresses two important but separate questions: 1. Is any one particular mine having a deleterious effect on the receiving environment? And 2. Are metal mines nationally having a deleterious effect on downstream environments? As part of the 10-year review of the MMER, the multi-stakeholder groups have been tasked with determining the answer to the second question: determining whether the current Metal Mine Effluent Regulations are protective of the receiving environment.

In the last 10 years metal mines have undertaken two to three rounds of Environmental Effects Monitoring (EEM). These studies compare indicators of fish health (size, gonad size, liver size) and indicators of ecological health (benthic community richness) upstream and downstream of mine outfalls. In the Second National Assessment of the EEM results, a metaanalysis of EEM studies done at metal mines throughout the country found that fish downstream of metal mines were, on average, thinner, older, and slower growing. A Third National Assessment of the EEM results is ongoing. The industry sector has undertaken two re-analyses of the EEM data and have posed questions regarding the suitability of the data and the appropriateness of the techniques used to analyse these data. However, without an independent analysis the eNGO sector cannot address the issue, as neither of the industry reports addressed important questions around correlation of outcomes, and potential impacts of changes to decision-making criteria. Therefore, we addressed the question of whether the MMER guidelines are protective of the receiving environment by re-analyzing of the EEM data. In order to be useful in the policy context, the analysis included a plain language report, and a list of policy recommendations based on the available evidence.

This report, commissioned by the eNGO caucus of the MMER 10-year review, was funded by MEND Canada, Sustainability Resources Ltd and Endeavour Scientific. It is expected to be complete February 2015.