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Contaminants at Nanisivik stored improperly, and have been for years

Rusting barrels of fuel on the ground and decaying bags of chemicals at the old Nanisivik airport trouble former Arctic Bay mayor Niore Iqalukjuak.

Niore Iqalukjuak, a former mayor of Arctic Bay, says these rusting barrels at the former Nanisivik airport contain dry chemicals for use in fire extinguishers.
photo courtesy of Niore Iqalukjuak

Iqalukjuak made a trip to the site – approximately 30 km from Arctic Bay by road – on July 21. He documented the poorly-stored contaminants in photographs. He said fuel is leaking from some of the barrels, which are the responsibility of the Government of Nunavut.

“It had me a bit worried because they're up on top of the hill. Every spring during runoff it goes into our water lake. That was concerning to me,” he said. “Our Nunavut government seems to want the mining companies to do their due diligence and keep our environment clean. It would be good if they follow what they ask the mining companies to do, too.”

Ryan Barry, executive director of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, saw Iqalukjuak's photos and expressed disapproval of the site conditions.

"None of those materials should be stored that way, even temporarily," Barry stated.

Bags of calcium chloride – used for dust suppression or to melt ice and snow – are rotting and allowing the chemicals to seep into the ground at the old Nanisivik airport near Arctic Bay.
photo courtesy of Niore Iqalukjuak

John Hawkins, assistant deputy minister with the Department of Economic Development and Transportation, didn't attempt to defend the government's handling of the hazardous waste since the Nanisivik airport shut down in 2011.

It's not acceptable,” he said. “To be totally honest it did fall off the radar for some years.”

The area is now listed in the GN's contaminated site inventory.

We're advancing the plan to fix it,” Hawkins said.

He didn't have a firm timeline for when the hazardous waste would be removed, however.

Some old batteries rest on a wooden table while others have toppled onto the ground. Niore Iqalukjuak worries corrosive battery acid will find its way into the ground at the former Nanisivik airport.
photo courtesy of Niore Iqalukjuak

A site assessment was carried out in 2012 and there was an inspector sent there last year, he said. He didn't know of any interim measures taken to protect the environment or wildlife from the contaminants.

No, nothing's been done,” said Hawkins, who added that site testing is on the agenda this year and the outcome will help determine Nanisivik's priority among the other known contaminated sites in the territory. It will also result in a better idea of the cost to clean up the area.

The drums (of fuel) are probably the highest concern,” Hawkins said. “It's probably more like lube oil (inside).”

Asked about the potential harm from the calcium chloride – a salt created by mixing calcium and chlorine – Hawkins replied, “I'm not an environmental guy... it's a road salt... it's not great.”

According to McGill University in Montreal, calcium chloride can result in burns if humans or animals ingest it.

Iqalukjuak, who wants action to be taken at Nanisivik as soon as possible, said he intends to write a letter to Quttiktuq MLA David Akeeagok, who serves Arctic Bay, Grise Fiord and Resolute and is also the minister of Economic Development and Transportation, as well as deputy premier.

Some fuel barrels at the former Nanisivik airport rest on pallets, others are on the ground, upright or toppled over. They've been there for several years. Niore Iqalukjuak, who visited the site in July, says the soil in the foreground is darker due to leaking fuel, which is also noticeable by its odour. photo courtesy of Niore Iqalukjuak

The Nanisivik airport, originally built to serve the community of Arctic Bay and a lead zinc mine in the 1970s, closed in early 2011 when the Arctic Bay airport went into service. At the time, the GN stated that it would save approximately $575,000 per year by no longer having to maintain Nanisivik airport and the road between Nanisivik and Arctic Bay.

The GN has a $1.5 million budget to monitor contaminated sites throughout Nunavut.