State of the marine environment at Little Bay Arm, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, 10 years after a "do nothing" response to a mine tailings spill

Geoff Veinott, Paul Sylvester, Dounia Hamoutene, M. Robin Anderson, Jim Meade, Jerry Payne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

In 1989, the tailings pond dam at the site of a former copper mine near Little Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, ruptured and tailings spilled into Little Bay Arm. At the time, no action was taken to arrest the flow of tailings or to mitigate the effects of the spill. To date, no action has been taken to repair the dam and tailings continue to flow into Little Bay Arm. As a result, the marine environment around Little Bay Arm has become contaminated with heavy metals from the tailings. However, the tailings are not the only source of heavy metals to the ecosystem. An old slag heap and what is presumably concentrated copper ore spilled during the loading of ore freighters, are also contributing to the ecosystem's metal load. Marine sediment throughout the Arm contained elevated concentrations of Cu, Ni, Zn, As, V, Co, and Mn. Beach material also contained elevated concentrations of metals with material near the slag heap being the most contaminated. At this site, Cu concentrations were in excess of 5000 mg kg-1 dry weight, Zn greater than 3000 mg kg-1 and Co concentrations exceeded 700 mg kg -1. The highest concentrations of metals in biota were found near the slag heap, near the railings dam breach, and at the site of the former concentrate loading dock. Despite elevated metal concentrations, the tailings and nearby sediment were not devoid of life. Bivalves and seaweed were abundant in the area and there were no obvious signs of tissue damage or disease in soft shell clams (Mya arenaria) living in the tailings. These clams may be suffering from chronic exposure to the tailings, however, evidence of lipid peroxidation in the clams was inconclusive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)626-634
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Monitoring
Volume5
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2003

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