Giant Mine Oversight Board (GMOB): Research Program
237,000 tons of arsenic trioxide dust are currently stored in fourteen underground chambers at the Giant Mine site. After evaluating a wide range of technical solutions to manage potential environmental impacts associated with the dust, the Project Team determined that its preferred method was to permanently freeze the dust and the rock around each underground chamber.
The Environmental Assessment of the remediation project concluded that the “frozen block” method was the most appropriate technical solution currently available. However, it was also determined that freezing should not be viewed as the permanent solution and that emerging technologies should continue to be investigated. As a result, GMOB through Article 7 of the Giant Mine Remediation Environmental Agreement, has been tasked with supporting research into technical approaches that could serve as a permanent solution.
The GMOB released the “Giant Mine State of Knowledge Review: Arsenic Dust Management Strategies” report in August 2017. This report considered the state of current remediation technologies that could be considered for future arsenic trioxide remediation.
Subsequently, GMOB has been meeting regularly with TERRE-NET representatives to set up a formal, collaborative research program. TERRE-NET (https://terre-net.ca) brings together leading experts from Canadian universities working in the fields of geochemistry, hydrogeology, mineralogy, biogeochemistry, mine effluent treatment, geotechnical engineering, nanotechnology, environmental microbiology, resource economics, environmental sociology and interactions with Aboriginal communities. Through an integrated approach, the network develops improved, cost-effective and socially acceptable strategies for managing mine tailings and mitigating contamination. It is headquartered at the University of Waterloo.
GMOB hosted a GMOB Research Workshop (March 19-20, 2018) in Yellowknife with TERRE-NET researchers. This provided further context for the research mandate and introduced TERRE-NET’s expertise. Monthly progress meetings have been held subsequently with GMOB attending TERRE-NET’s Annual General Meeting (Ottawa, 26-27 June 2018) with invited guests from Yellowknives Dene First Nation and the North Slave Metis Alliance.
GMOB then signed contracts with the University of Waterloo for TERRE-NET to engage in a formal document review and to attend the GMOB Research Workshop in Edmonton (October 2-4, 2018), where the results of the technical document review were presented and the initial focus of the joint research program was explored. As a result, GMOB is currently negotiating an MOU with the University of Waterloo to establish a formal research relationship with TERRE-NET.
Research proposals outside of TERRE-NET are welcomed by the Giant Mine Oversight Board and will be formally evaluated once the formal research program is in place.
Article 7: Active Research Toward a Permanent Solution for Arsenic
7.1 Research Program
In order to facilitate active research toward a permanent solution for dealing with arsenic at the Giant Mine site, the Oversight Body shall, on a periodic basis, ensure that:
- reports on relevant emerging technologies are produced;
- research priorities are identified;
- research funding is administered;
- results of research are made public; and
- the results of each cycle are applied to the next cycle of the steps described in sections 7.1(a) through 7.1(d).
In conducting all of its activities described in section 7.1 (“Research Program”), the Oversight Body shall:
- encourage public awareness of its work; and
- create opportunities for interested persons, including the Parties, to participate as the Oversight Body considers meaningful and appropriate.
7.3 Existing Programs
In conducting all of its activities described in sections 7.1 (“Research Program”), the Oversight Body shall make best use of existing research institutions and programs.The research program will focus on the identifying effective arsenic trioxide management alternatives that are capable of protecting human health and the environment forever, that does not require human intervention.
Arsenic Trioxide (As2O3)
|Molar mass:||197.841 g/mol|
|CAS ID:||1327-53-3 |
|Boiling point:||465 °C|
|Melting point:||312.2 °C|
The word arsenic is derived from the Persian zarnikh and Syriac zarniqa, later incorporated into ancient Greek as arsenikon, which meant “masculine” or “potent” and referred primarily to orpiment, or yellow arsenic. The word became arsenicum in Latin and arsenic in old French, from which the current English term is derived. 
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in soil, water, plants and animals. The properties of arsenic have been known since antiquity. Arsenic is naturally occurring in the food chain and is present in a wide array of foods, including flour, corn, wheat, fruit, poultry, sea food, rice and vegetables, as well as beer and wine, fruit juices and water. In modern times, arsenic has been used in a variety of applications including as wood preservatives, pesticides, in specific medical treatments and the semiconductor industry.
Arsenic trioxide is an arsenolite, an oxidation product of arsenic sulphides (white arsenic, As2O3). It is an inorganic compound created as a by-product of the process of extracting gold from arsenopyrite ores. At the Giant Mine, roasting the ore at high temperatures released an arsenic-rich gas requiring the use of electrostatic precipitators, and bag houses to capture arsenic compounds. Up to 99.7% of the dust and fumes produced during roasting were captured, once the equipment was installed and operational. Prior to this, the arsenic gases were released directly into the atmosphere.
Over the lifetime of the Giant Mine, 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust were collected and are now stored in chambers underground at the mine site. This collected dust is water soluble and contains approximately 60% arsenic trioxide and other minerals such as iron, antimony and gold.
A CAS Registry Number, also referred to as CASRN or CAS ID, is a unique numerical identifier assigned by Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) to every chemical substance described in the open scientific literature (currently including those described from at least 1957 through the present), including organic and inorganic compounds, minerals, isotopes, alloys and non-structurable materials (UVCBs, of unknown, variable composition, or biological origin)
Vahidnia A, van der Voet GB, de Wolff FA. Arsenic neurotoxicity – a review. Human Experiment Toxicol 2007: 26: 823-832
Surface and Offsite Contamination
In addition to arsenic trioxide stored underground, the environment surrounding the Giant Mine site has been contaminated from arsenic trioxide dispersed during mine operations. While the Giant Mine Oversight Board has concluded that its research mandate will focus on the arsenic trioxide currently stored underground, it fully recognizes the importance of research and remediation related to surface contamination, including the aquatic environment. GMOB will continue to strongly encourage research into surface contamination issues by the appropriate agencies.