Historical gold mine tailings
Ecology & biomonitoring
- Chinese mystery snails
legacy of arsenic and mercury contamination.
you here about our mesocosm projects at Second Lake and Muddy
Pond? Please see our remediation
page for more information about our 5-year research
Waste materials ("tailings") from mining activities which took
place in the 1800's can remain contaminated and toxic even over
100 years later. This is a national and international issue.
The DEEHR group is developing biomonitoring and remediation
approaches for impacts of those tailings on freshwater ecosystems
and organisms which rely on those freshwater resources. Our focus is
on Nova Scotia legacy gold mine tailings, and our goals are to
develop methodology which can be used to remediate not only those
sites but can also be applied to similar impacted sites around the
Scotia has a long history of gold mining going back to the
mid-1800's. There are over 360 gold mines in 64 historic
gold mining districts in the Cambro-Ordovician Meguma Supergroup,
stretching over a 300-km length of NS. Between 1862 and the
mid-1940's, 1.2 million troy ounces of gold were extracted,
typically using mercury amalgamation techniques. Due to a lack of
environmental regulations in the 1800's, there is a modern legacy of
three million tonnes of finely-ground contaminated waste tailings.
arsenic remain elevated and of concern even 100 years later. Mercury-recovery
were practiced, but frequently 10 to 25% of mercury was lost to the
environment through various means at each ore processing site. It
has been conservatively estimated that a total of 3.7 to 9.1 tonnes
of mercury may have been released to the NS environment from the
1850's to the 1940's. Since the original ore also included
arsenopyrite and other arsenic-bearing pyrites, the gold-mine
tailings also contain elevated arsenic. After processing, untreated
tailings were frequently slurried into nearby freshwater systems
without regard for the consequences. The legacy of localized tailing
wastes near freshwater sites in 64 gold-mine regions has resulted in
multi-generational chronic exposure to mercury, arsenic and other
toxic elements for wildlife and humans. Many sites across Nova
Scotia still bear the visible scars of this extensive mining and
processing a century later.
We are doing
something about this major environmental issue. There has
been many excellent studies of arsenic and mercury exposure and
impact in terrestrial ecosystems and geology. However, there is a
significant knowledge gap for aquatic ecosystems of Nova Scotia,
with only a few publications and reports on this topic.
The DEEHR team is carrying out several investigations looking at
this significant environmental and industrial issue for Nova Scotia,
in collaboration with NS Lands Inc., Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia,
Natural Resources Canada, Nova Scotia Energy & Mines Geosciences
Branch, Intrinsik Corp., and many others.
Our ecology and biomonitoring projects include:
- Studying the bioaccumulation and distribution of arsenic and
mercury in living organisms across the province to assess the
potential risk of gold mine tailing wastes to aquatic
- Biodiversity of wetlands impacted by contaminated historical
- Assessing dust, air and rain samples for mercury and arsenic
from legacy gold mine tailings, including lichen collections.
- The potential of conifer
dendrochronology and dendrochemistry analyses to assess
mercury and arsenic fluxes.
- Paleoecology analyses of sediment cores for impacts of tailing
- Establishing ecotoxicology testing of key species in the
laboratory to examine the rate of bioaccumulation, speciation,
reduced functionality and lethality of the toxic tailings.
- Developing a low-cost additive and capping methods to
potentially significantly reduce the risk and toxicity of toxic
gold mine tailings to terrestrial and aquatic biota as well as
- Using remote sensing, LiDAR and other tools to create spatial
databases of the extent and distribution of legacy gold mine
tailings in Nova Scotia.
- Rephotography project using historical photographs to assess
changes through time since 1860's.
DEEHR Team & Collaborators Resources
DEEHR Team & Collaborators
- ECAB Lab (Josh Kurek, Mt Allison). Using paleolimnology
techniques to understand long-term impacts of historical gold
mine tailings in freshwater ecosystems. Link.
- Brochure about contaminated historical gold mine tailing
issues in Nova Scotia created by Peter Opra. Link to PDF
file. (Created as a part of Clean Youth Internship
- Dr. Emily Chapman's seminar on low-dose selenium additives for
reducing toxicity of gold mine tailing waste to earthworms. Link
- Molly LeBlanc's Three Minute Thesis talk "Not All That
Glitters: Assessing Environmental Effects of Abandoned Gold
You-tube video. PDF
- Michael Smith, Linda Campbell & Carrie Rickwood. 2020.
Lichens as biomonitors of dust and air quality biomonitors at a
contaminated site. Research Proposal Poster. Saint Mary's
University. Figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.12086661.v1.
- Michael Smith et al. 2020. Maps of sampling grids. Lichens as
dust and air-quality biomonitors at a gold mine tailings site in
Nova Scotia, Canada. Figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.12086205.v1.
- AJ Clark, AL Labaj, JP Smol, LM Campbell & J Kurek. 2021.
Arsenic and mercury contamination and complex aquatic
bioindicator responses to historical gold mining and modern
watershed stressors in urban Nova Scotia, Canada. Science of the
Total Environment. 787:147374. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.147374.
- BL Bowes. 2021. Examination of mercury and arsenic
concentrations in spruce tree cores and soil samples from
historical gold mine tailing sites in Nova Scotia. Honours
thesis. Department of Environmental Science, Acadia University.
- EEV Chapman, C Moore & LM Campbell. 2020. Evaluation of a
nanoscale zero-valent iron amendment as a potential tool to
reduce mobility, toxicity, and bioaccumulation of arsenic and
mercury from wetland sediments. Environmental Science and
Pollution Research. Published online. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-020-08347-6.
Read online: https://rdcu.be/b3cNZ.
- ME LeBlanc, MB Parsons, EEV Chapman & LM Campbell. 2020.
Review of Ecological Mercury and Arsenic Bioaccumulation within
Historical Gold Mining Districts of Nova Scotia. Environmental
Uncorrected proofs (PDF).
CBC article about the review paper. Link.
- EEV Chapman, C Moore & LM Campbell. 2019. Native plants
for revegetation of mercury and arsenic-contaminated historical
mining waste - Can a low-dose selenium additive improve seedling
growth and decrease contaminant bioaccumulation? Water,
Air, & Soil Pollution.
online for free: https://rdcu.be/bP9M7.
- Molly LeBlanc. 2019. MSc Thesis. "Bioaccumulation and transfer
of mercury and arsenic in aquatic invertebrates and emergent
insects at historical gold mine tailing sites of Nova Scotia" Link
to download page.
- EEV Chapman, J Robinson, J Berry & LM Campbell. 2016. Can
a low-dose selenium (Se) additive reduce environmental risks of
mercury (Hg) and arsenic (As) in old gold mine tailings? Water,
Air, & Soil Pollution. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-016-2909-9
Read online for free: http://rdcu.be/mFfT.
- Gold: A Nova Scotia Treasure. Comprehensive website resource.
- Nova Scotia Archives "Men in the Mines: A History of Mining
Activity in Nova Scotia, 1720-1992". Link.
- Nova Scotia DNR Geoscience & Mine Branch Maps, Reports
& Data. Link.
- NovaScan Portal. Link.
- Dr. Michael Parsons et al. 2012. Environmental geochemistry of
tailings, sediments and surface waters collected from 14
historical gold mining districts in Nova Scotia. Geological
Survey of Canada. Link
PDF of Open File 7150 (note: large document, 326 pages).
- John Drage. 2015. NS DNR Open File. Review of Environmental
Impacts of Historic Gold Mine Tailings in Nova Scotia. ME
2015-004. PDF Link.
- Alan L Sangster & Paul K Smith. 2003. Metallogenic Summary
of the Meguma Gold Deposits, Nova Scotia. In: WD Goodfellow (ed)
Mineral Deposits of Canada: A Synthesis of Major Deposit-Types,
District Metallogeny, the Evolution of Geological Provinces, and
Exploration Methods. Geological Association of Canada: Mineral
Deposits Division. Special Publication No. 5. PDF
- Dr. Michael Parsons's Atlantic Geoscience Society presentation
on Youtube: "Gold
Mining in Nova Scotia: Learning from the Past to Improve
Future Environmental Performance". June 2020. (no
captions, auto-captions are reasonable with several errors.)
- NS DNR Gold District GIS Data from E.R. Faribault (1898 -
1919) maps. Eastern
- eResearch Industry Report: Atlantic Gold Industry Report
(Virginia to Newfoundland). March 5, 2021. PDF
- What do gold mine tailings look like? (PDF file from NS
Environment). Link to PDF.
- HRM Advisory for Barry's Run, Dartmouth NS & legacy gold
mine tailings from Montague. Halifax
Regional Municipality informational website.
- Dillon Consultants. 2019. Halifax Regional Municipality Phase
I/II Environmental Site Assessment Port Wallace, Dartmouth, Nova
PDF file (large document over 600 pages).
- Intrinsik Corp. 2020. Human
health risk assessment of sediment, surface water, and fish
from Barry's Run, Halifax Regional Municipality. (216
- NS Government NS Lands Inc - Request for Proposals Tender
MINE SITES MONTAGUE AND GOLDENVILLE - For Closure Concepts and
Costs". Tender ID NSLAND97 (September 2018. Large
document! 873 pages.)
- Intrinsik Corp et al. 2019. Conceptual
Closure Plan for the Historic Goldenville Tailings Area.
July 24, 2019. Large document (762 pages).
- Intrinsik Corp et al. 2019. Conceptual
Closure Study for the Historic Montague Mine Tailings Areas.
July 24, 2019. Large document (745 pages).
- NS Lands & Forests and NS Lands Inc. NS mining site
clean-up priority list (as of March 11, 2020). PDF.
- Boston Public Library Digital Collections - historical maps of
NS gold mine districts. Link.
- Historical documents associated with keywords "nova scotia
gold" via the Internet
SELECTED MEDIA MENTIONS (for full
list, go to this page.)
- Joint Mount Allison University - Saint Mary's University press
link, MtA ECAB
link. See media
page for reporting.
- SMU Press release: AMNS - SMU Partnership. Link.
See media page for reporting.
- Port Wallace development & Montague legacy gold mine
tailings. Halifax Examiner article by Joan Baxter. Link.
- CBC news article about Molly LeBlanc's review paper on As
& Hg bioaccumulation in biological organisms in NS. Link.
- 95.7 interview by Katie Hartai with Dr.
Chapman about developing an approach for remediation with local
- CBC News article about the NS Lands Inc RFP for Montague and
Goldenville and Dr. Campbell's input: Link.
- Halifax Examiner article by Joan Baxter about legacy gold mine
tailings in Nova Scotia: Link.
- CBC News article about the Public Service Announcement re:
Barry's Run, Dartmouth and legacy gold mine tailings from