Below are responses to some of the questions that have been raised during the consultation process.
What kind of contaminants are at the Faro site?
The remaining large quantity of waste, comprising crushed rock/ore, and tailings is made up of naturally-occurring minerals and metals which are potentially harmful to the environment. These include metals such as lead, zinc, copper in various forms and other minerals such as metal sulphides. As the waste rock and tailings are exposed to air, wind and rain, the metals and minerals may be released and the natural level of these metals in the surrounding air, water and ground may be increased to levels that can be harmful. The whole aim of the closure plan is to minimize this process, and to close the site in such a way to prevent any unacceptable long-term changes.
Should there be signs warning hunters in the Faro area that animals may be contaminated?
Experts are looking at the condition of the plants and animals in the potentially affected region around the mine and all the work done to date shows there is no need for any concern about the health of the animals at this time. This information will also be used to look at the future to see if there could be changes over the long term. These studies continue and the results will be presented to the communities in the area as part of the consultation process.
When is the cleanup going to start?
Since 2003, governments have been working together to develop a closure and remediation plan for the Faro Mine Complex. Consensus was reached on a closure plan in 2008 and announced in 2009. The closure and remediation plan needs to be developed into a detailed engineering design plan. Once finalized, this detailed version of the plan will need to go through various channels before it can be implemented. This includes socio-economic and environmental assessments, regulatory requirements and final project approval.
How long will it take to clean up the mine site?
Once the project is approved and permits are authorized by regulators, the major construction phase is expected to take about 15 years to complete. The construction phase will be followed by an adaptation phase of approximately 20-25 years in which all of the various on-site solutions including soil covers, structures, collection and treatment systems will be tested, monitored and improved as required.
The Faro Mine Complex will require active maintenance for many years after the major construction phase is complete. Monitoring and maintenance of engineered soil covers and structures, as well as collection and treatment of contaminated water, will continue for a very long time, providing jobs for Yukoners as active stewards of the land for generations to come.
Will there be a contingency plan if selected closure methods are unsuccessful?
Adaptive management is a key component of the final closure and remediation plan. Adaptive management is a tool that allows the project to react to changing environmental conditions and technological advances. It also allows for the implementation of alternative remediation approaches if necessary.
How much will it cost to close and remediate the Faro mine site?
The current estimated cost is $700 million. This figure is subject to change as the closure and remediation plan is refined through a detailed engineering design version of the plan and as it undergoes the regulatory and licensing phases.
What is going to be done with the tailings?
The recommended closure plan is based on a stablilize in place approach. Just like it sounds, this approach will involve upgrading dams to ensure tailings stay in place during natural events such as earthquakes and floods. In addition, engineered soil covers will be installed over all the tailings.
Engineered soil covers are made of natural materials (soils and gravels) and are designed to minimize the infiltration of rain and melt water into tailings and waste rock. This reduces the rate at which contaminants are created and transported into the aquatic environment where they can be harmful to fish and other aquatic organisms. Soil covers also prevent humans and wildlife from contacting contaminated materials, and also stop movement of these materials by wind and water. An uncompacted top "growing layer" of soil allows for revegetation of the covers, both to help the covers work better and to improve habitat for birds and animals. Before being covered, tailings and waste rock will be reshaped to look more like the natural environment.
Is it possible to reprocess the tailings to recover metals remaining in them?
The simple answer is 'yes'. Whether this would be economically feasible, however, is more difficult to answer. The original processing of the ore removed over 80% of the metals. The remaining metals would be much more difficult to extract and the form of concentrate that would be produced could only be processed at a single facility world-wide. The cost to carry out reprocessing would be high as the existing mill facilities are no longer operational, and a new concentrator would have to be constructed. The possible value of the recovered metals depends upon world prices at the time they are produced and it is difficult to predict prices for the future.
How much water seeps through the tailings into the groundwater?
We know that the tailings allow some water to pass through them into the natural gravel aquifers below them. As water passes through the tailings, it may become contaminated. Consequently, the long term remediation and closure plan includes collecting and treating contaminated groundwater for hundreds of years.
Could the holes that were drilled through the tailings for water testing cause contamination of the groundwater?
Test work was carried out to see whether this was possible and, if so, what were the likely effects. As a result, a program was undertaken on the site in the fall of 2005 to seal the holes that were of concern and were no longer required.
How clean is the treated water released from the settling ponds into Rose Creek?
For the care and maintenance of the site, Yukon government decided to apply the identical water quality standards as found in the site's previous water licenses. This means that all treated water currently discharged from the mine site meets the same rigorous effluent quality standards previously found in the water license held by the interim receiver. These standards are incorporated into the care and maintenance contract and the contractor is legally bound to meet these standards.
Is water released from the settling ponds into the creeks during spawning season?
The effluent treatment plants must operate at all times when there is insufficient storage within the tailings area or in the pits. Only treated water is discharged and this discharge will not affect the fish or their habitat.
What chemicals and contaminants are in the dust from the mine site?
The majority of dust generated from the site has similar characteristics to the tailings themselves, containing the same naturally occurring minerals. The constituents of concern are those metals and minerals that could impact on people and the environment such as lead and zinc. Sample analyses are available from the routine monitoring that is carried out at the site and the surrounding environment.
How far does the wind blow the dust?
Over the past two years, detailed studies have been carried out to assess how far from the mine site terrestrial impacts can be found. These show quite a wide impact, but additional work will be done to find the limits of impact.
What is going to be done with all the waste rock?
All the waste rock will remain on the property. As part of the closure plan, waste rock will be re-sloped to improve long-term stability and engineered soil covers will be installed over the waste rock surface. Engineered soil covers are made of natural materials (soils and gravels) and are designed to minimize the infiltration of rain and melt water into tailings and waste rock. This reduces the rate at which contaminants are created and transported into the aquatic environment. Soil covers also prevent humans and wildlife from contacting contaminated materials and stop movement of these materials by wind and water.
How is water collected and treated before acid rock drainage happens?
Water is not collected and treated prior to the start of this natural process. The closure objectives are to prevent this process occurring, if at all possible, or at least reduce the rate and quantity of acidic water produced. This is achieved by minimizing the contact of the potentially acid-generating waste with water or air. For waste rock, this would usually be through the use of engineered covers.
Can acid rock drainage evaporate and make or cause acid rain?
No. Evaporated water is pure and contains NO contaminants. Acid rain occurs from the contact of moisture in the air with sulphur gases given off by power-generating plants and other industrial processes.
What will be done with the water in the pits?
The pits will continue to collect water from direct precipitation, and will store water before treatment and receive sludge after treatment. Pit water levels will be managed to provide sufficient storage capacity for spring run off, and pits bermed (surrounded by an earthen barrier) to protect human safety.
What happens to all the lime and fertilizer used to treat water?
The additives cause a reaction or process which results in the reduction of metals in the contaminated water. The processes produce a sludge capturing the metals and minerals which settles out of the water to the pond or pit bottom. These sludges are stable and permanent.
How many people are working at the Faro mine site now?
Currently, there are about 35 people employed and working at the Faro Mine Complex on care and maintenance activities. the majority are seasonal positions working during the operational season (from May to October). These positions are mainly: water monitoring and water treatment technicians, light and heavy equipment operators, labourers, mechanics, electricians, health, safety and security personnel, management and administrative staff. During the quiet winter season, a care and maintenance staff of about 15 work at the Faro Mine Complex.
Can these workers handle an emergency if one happened?
Yes. The principal reason for the care and maintenance activity is to ensure the site is well maintained and that there is competent crew available to address emergencies. Senior and experienced staff is always on site or available should an emergency occur.