Tag Archives: health and safety

Environmentalists sue De Beers over mercury at Canadian diamond mine

Wildlands League has gone to court against De Beers Canada Inc. for allegedly failing to report levels of mercury and methylmercury at its Victor Diamond Mine site in northern Ontario.

Methylmercury, a neurotoxin, can threaten the health of human and aquatic life.

Wildlands League alleges De Beers failed to report properly on mercury levels from five out of nine surface water monitoring stations for the creeks next to its open pit mine between 2009 and 2016, violating a condition of its Certificate of Approval. These are offenses under the Ontario Water Resources Act. 

“Private prosecutions are an important tool that allows private citizens to hold industry to account,” said Julia Croome, a lawyer with Ecojustice, which is representing the Wildlands League.

“When governments don’t enforce their own laws, this course of action is in the public interest,” Croome said.

The reporting failures undermined the effectiveness of the mine’s early warning system for mercury pollution, Ecojustice lawyers assisting the group say.

De Beers’ plans include extending the life of the Victor mine by digging the existing pit deeper and by digging another pit to bring the ore back to the Victor site for processing.

The Victor Diamond Mine is the first of 16 potential open pit mines that De Beers could build in the Attawapiskat River watershed. Further, a number of major mines have also been proposed for the Ring of Fire region, further upstream.

Wildlands League alerted the province and De Beers to the failures more than 18 months ago.

The group then outlined these concerns and others last December, in a special public report, “Nothing to See Here: failures of self-monitoring and reporting at the De Beers Victor Diamond Mine in Canada.”

“After months and months of silence from Ontario, we felt we had no choice but to file charges,” said Trevor Hesselink, citizen informant in this case, and Wildlands League director of policy and research.

“We expected Ontario to enforce its own laws. If we can’t rely on Ontario to oversee a single diamond mine, how can we trust it to oversee the many northern infrastructure and mining developments that are on the horizon?” Hesselink added.

The mine does not directly deposit methylmercury into nearby creeks.

Instead, its activities trigger impacts on the environment by stimulating the conversion of mercury already present in the ecosystem into methylmercury.

Methylmercury enters the food chain when fish absorb it directly through their gills or when they consume small organisms, like plankton, that are contaminated. The neurotoxin quickly concentrates at harmful levels in top predator fish and game, posing risks to indigenous people and recreational fishers that eat fish or game caught in the region.

The highest risks are borne by women of childbearing age and children under 15, as methylmercury affects brain and nervous system development.

The maximum fine under the Ontario Water Resources Act for a first time corporate offender is $250,000 per day.

De Beers has been ordered to make a first appearance in the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto on Jan. 12, 2017.

Animal advocates, farm workers sue FDA over animal growth drugs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of several ractopamine-based animal drugs is being challenged by animal advocates and farm workers. The groups are suing the FDA for failing to take into account the drugs’ cumulative effects on animal behavior, worker safety, wildlife or the nation’s waterways.

The lawsuit focuses on ractopamine, a drug fed to farm animals to promote rapid weight gain. The drug has been banned in dozens of countries and is said to cause death, lameness, stiffness, trembling and shortness of breath in farm animals.

The groups are suing because FDA has allowed millions of pigs, turkeys and cows to be fed ractopamine-based animal drugs without considering the cumulative impacts of the agency’s actions. The drugs include new combinations of ractopamine with controversial antibiotics and steroids. These drugs remain active in animal waste, and when sprayed on fields, or spilled from manure lagoons, they can wreak havoc on habitat, wildlife and endangered species.

“The FDA’s actions have far-reaching impacts on millions of animals, millions of acres of habitat, and thousands of farm workers throughout the United States,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, who works in the Animal Protection Litigation department at The Humane Society of the United States. “America’s animal factories are pumping out uncounted tons of ractopamine-laced animal waste into the environment each year, and the FDA has no idea what the long-term environmental effects might be.” 

Ractopamine can make animals severely stressed and difficult to handle, increasing the likelihood of injuring or killing farm workers. Workers’ exposure to antibiotics like Tylosin also endangers them and their families because exposure to the antibiotics can leave them more vulnerable to dangerous antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

“The wide-spread use of these drugs adds another layer of risk for farm workers, who are already doing some of the most dangerous jobs in America on factory farms, and puts farm worker communities at increased risk of illness and disease” said Erik Nicholson, national vice-president for United Farm Workers of America. 

“Consumers are increasingly demanding humane treatment of farmed animals and the U.S. should be at the forefront of animal protection rather than lagging behind the international curve,” says Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in San Francisco by The Humane Society of the United States, The United Farm Workers, and The Animal Legal Defense Fund, asks the Court to set-aside FDA’s approvals of the drugs at issue while the agency performs the environmental review required under federal law.

From the plaintiffs in the case:

• Ractopamine is fed to between 60 to 80 percent of all U.S. pigs, cattle and turkeys.

• Tylosin is an antibiotic given to livestock to promote growth and FDA considers it “critically important” to human medicine. Tylosin-resistant bacteria has been found in the soil and air downwind of factory farms.  

• Monensin is a livestock antibiotic administered to promote growth. Even in low doses it has direct toxic effects on soil animals and presents a potential ecological risk.

• Melengestrol is a synthetic steroid hormone used in dairy and beef cattle. The European Union prohibits the use of melengestrol because of the potential risks to human health from hormone residues in bovine meat.

• The FDA has never prepared an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment of the cumulative and combined effects of its approvals of Ractopamine and Ractopamine-based combination drugs on the vast majority of the pigs, cattle, and turkeys raised for food in the United States, nor even presented its decisions to the public for review or comment by outside experts.