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Conference to focus on clean, green mining

More than 500 delegates will gather at Laurentian University in Sudbury Oct. 19-27 to discuss how mining companies can avoid doing damage to the environment.

More than 500 delegates will gather at Laurentian University in Sudbury Oct. 19-27 to discuss how mining companies can avoid doing damage to the environment.

This is the fourth time the university has hosted the Mining and the Environment International Conference. The first one was held in 1995.

“It's essential that we see the link between proper mining techniques and taking care of the environment. We can't just go running around making a mess,” said John Gunn, Canada research chair in stressed aquatic systems at Laurentian University.

“Nowadays, with the environment being such a key component of the public's consciousness, everyone's concerned about whether mining is having a long-term effect on the environment, and if the land can be remediated afterwards.”

The conference will be attended by technical experts, policy makers, regulators and industry representatives from around the world.

It is being co-hosted by the Centre for Environmental Monitoring, MIRARCO and the Co-operative Freshwater Ecology Unit, all based at the university.

On the agenda are sessions about the impact of mining on fresh water systems and the rehabilitation of already polluted lakes and rivers.

There will also be sessions about the Sudbury Soils Study, which is assessing the health risks relating to metals left in the soil after more than 100 years of mining.

Among the keynote speakers are David Schindler, an expert on the effects of pollutants on lakes, Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party in Canada, Bernd Lotter, an expert on mine waste, and Peter Chapman, an environmental scientist.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment is offering delegates a certification course on environmental assessments and a trade show in the university's Great Hall will showcase some of the latest technology designed to reduce the environmental impact of mining and other industrial processes.

Delegates can sign up for a tour of CVRD Inco and Xstrata to see what the companies have done to protect the environment. Tours of the Sudbury watershed, and visits to other mines in northeastern Ontario will also be offered.

Organizers have taken steps to ensure the conference itself is environmentally friendly.

They'll ask delegates how they travelled to the city and will plant trees to make up for the greenhouse gases attributable to their journey.

Although Sudbury was given a United Nations Award in 1992 for its land reclamation efforts, Gunn said the Sudbury mining industry can do more to make its operations clean and green.

He's hoping mining industry delegates will get a few ideas about environmental initiatives at the conference.

“I'm not sure we're as innovative as we should be,” he said.

“Part of the reason for this conference is a stimulus for us to re-invest in technology and attract technology to this area. We're hoping that many of these consulting firms will locate in Sudbury.”

One innovation that is getting a lot of interest right now is the use of special bacteria that can remove pollutants from tailings ponds, said Gunn. There are also special filters that can do the same thing.

Gunn said it's a lot less expensive for mining companies to avoid damaging the environment in the first place rather than clean it up later.

“Every company is trying to minimize its footprint and its liabilities. I think everyone is looking for upfront investments that will minimize long-term expenditures.”

Mining companies are investing in technology that reduces emissions into the water and air, as well as anything that can reduce energy consumption, said Gunn.

“Most clean, efficient companies are profitable companies,” he said.

“The investments made in retrofitting Sudbury-area smelters have had as much to do with energy efficiency as with smokestack cleanup.

“One of Inco's original analyses was that the major investments of about $500 million in the 1985 period paid for themselves in 10 years in energy efficiency alone. Why wouldn't you want to do that in the first place?”