The numbers are finally out and they aren’t pretty. New data released late this summer in response to a lawsuit won by Ecojustice is beginning to shed light on the toxic legacy of Canada’s mining and tar sands projects.

Between 2006 and 2009, approximately 2 million tonnes of pollutants – toxic substances like lead and sulphuric acid, and cancer-causing agents like arsenic, nickel and chromium – were released by mines into tailings and waste rock dumps.

Why was Ecojustice involved?

The data was made accessible thanks to a 2009 Federal Court win by Ecojustice. That ruling stated the federal government’s exclusion of pollutants contained in mine tailings and waste rock from the National Pollutant Release Inventory – Canada’s legislated, publicly-accessible inventory of pollutant releases to air, water and land – was illegal.

What does this victory mean?

The startling figures currently available help us, for the first time, gain a clearer picture of the mining industry’s devastating impact on the environment and the threat it poses to human heath. The numbers also provide a crucial building block for our future work on tar sands, drinking water protection and mining.

What’s next?

A third of Canada’s metal mines have yet to report and just one of 22 coal mines provided pollution data. While all may not be required to report, Environment Canada reports that some mines did not provide data as expected.

Environment Canada said it will follow up with non-reporting and possibly subject them to legal enforcement.