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Even though it was closed decades ago, the Giant Mine on the outskirts of Yellowknife has left a long environmental legacy.
The gold extraction process, which required roasting ores at extremely high temperatures, created a toxic byproduct called arsenic trioxide. For about 55 years (1948-2004), arsenic and other toxic elements were released into the environment, causing widespread contamination of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems around Yellowknife.
Tonnes - Trioxide - Dust - Lakes - Contamination
About 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust is buried underground, and several nearby lakes show arsenic contamination.
Elevated arsenic levels have also been reported in soil, vegetation and fish around Yellowknife, but we knew little about how it has affected the health of the small mammals that live in the area.
Animals - Pelts - Food - Levels - Health
Many of these fur-bearing animals are still being trapped for their pelts and for food, so knowing their arsenic levels is also important for human health.
Small mammals can serve as sentinels for environmental contamination. Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) live in a relatively small area and eat soil, so they are likely to accumulate higher levels of arsenic and other trace metals from the environment.
Exposure - Levels - Arsenic - Damage - Liver
Exposure to elevated levels of arsenic can cause damage to the liver and other organs. And cadmium, a toxic metal and another byproduct of the gold extraction process, can replace calcium in the bones, leading to bone deformities and weakness.
In humans, chronic arsenic exposure (usually from water) can lead to changes in skin colour, skin growths and cancers of...
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