The federal government is contemplating the introduction of new limits on effluent discharges from coal mines. The new regulations are proposed to be introduced under the Fisheries Act and would limit the levels of suspended solids, nitrates, and selenium that can be discharged and would require monitoring to ensure these levels are not exceeded.
Reportedly, in introducing these new regulations, Environment and Climate Change Canada is seeking to reduce levels of substances found in coal mine effluent that have the potential to harm human health, fish, and fish habitat.
Environment Canada remains particularly concerned about the potentially harmful impacts from selenium. Selenium is a by-product of the coal mining process and is found in coal mining effluent. It is known to accumulate in fish and interrupt reproduction. Subsistence fishers, such as some Inuit, as well as individuals who consume vitamin/ mineral supplements with high levels of selenium, may be particularly exposed to elevated selenium concentrations in fish. While selenium is a trace element that is naturally occurring in many foods and small amounts are necessary for most animals, too much can be toxic.
The new regulations would apparently be modelled after the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations, made under the Fisheries Act, and would likely be published in final form in 2019. Currently, Environment Canada is holding stakeholder consultations at key locations across the country.
After Australia and the US, Canada is currently the world’s third largest exporter of coal. There are currently two dozen producing coal mines in the country, the majority of which are located in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia.