Cape Breton mine water remediation

Coal mining began on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, over 250 years ago. Discover how using innovative techniques will help preserve the local environment once the mine is decommissioned and the pumps are shut down.

Transcript: Cape Breton mine water remediation

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[Music plays]

(Text on screen: Public Services and Procurement Canada)

[Image of a lighthouse on a point near the ocean.]

(Text on screen: Cape Breton, Nova Scotia)

[Image of Breton Campbell speaking to the camera.]

(Text on screen: Breton Campbell, Plant Operator and Electrician, New Victoria Mine Water Treatment Plant, Public Services and Procurement Canada)

Probably the biggest industry of Cape Breton is tourism and that industry would disappear if everything was contaminated or was just a lot of unremediated industrial sites. It would not be pleasing to the eye. Our Island would look rundown but through the work that we're doing, we keep everything looking lush and green for tourists and for fishermen.

[Image of a fishing boat travelling in the ocean.]

[Image of an old heritage photo of miners.]

[Image of a sign on a rural street. Sign says Welcome to Glace Bay, Proud People, Strong Future.]

[Image of a passage way inside a mine.]

[Image of a photo of a miner feeding a horse in a mine tunnel.]

[Image of a memorial situated in Miners Memorial Park dedicated to the memory of lost coal miners.]

[Image of a close-up of the names of the miners that have past.]

Mining began here on the island over 250 years ago. The first underground mine that was driven in 1720. Everyday that the miners went to work their families were scared. The wives were scared, even the kids you know as they grew older later on and they know how dangerous it was. People ask me all the time, why did you do it?

[Image of Sheldon Gouthro speaking to the camera.]

(Text on screen: Sheldon Gouthro, Former Miner and Tour Guide, Cape Breton Miners' Museum)

[Image of a Canadian and Nova Scotian flag.]

We never had nothing else here. We never had no factories or anything like that to go to here. This was their living.

[Image of Sheldon Gouthro speaking to the camera.]

When the government took over our coal mines here, they made them better, for what the old coal companies were.

[Image of a worker unrolling an old mining map.]

[Close-up image of map rolling back. Map is labelled Union Coal Company Property.]

[Image of Joseph MacPhee speaking to the camera.]

(Text on screen: Joseph MacPhee, Manager, Mine Water and Environmental Management, Cape Breton Operations, Public Services and Procurement Canada.]

So as long as the mine is operating, groundwater is seeping in. Once the mine shuts down, when the pumps are turned off and water levels rise. So every mind we have fills.

[Image of an animated graphic animating a mine being flooded by water.]

At some point, they overflow, and when they overflow, the problems start to occur because the quality of the water that's coming in.

[Image of a rock structure overlooking the ocean.]

[Image of a coastal area showing wind turbines.]

[Image of a landmass overlooking the ocean. A small town can be seen in the distance.]

[Image of two workers looking out.]

[Image of an overhead view of a wetland.]

We treat our water so we can control where it comes to the surface because it will eventually reach the surface on its own, if left untreated, and then it will spill out at its easiest point. That could be on a beach, the harbour and by treating it at the plant we can catch it before it rises anywhere else and become a detriment to anybody's property or the environment.

[Image of water draining into a containment area.]

[Image of Joseph MacPhee speaking to the camera.]

[Image of a worker walking inside a water treatment plant.]

We have eight treatment sites in total. They range from purely passive treatment, to at the other extreme, a high density system, which is highly industrialized.

[Image of a cast iron sign that says Neville St. Passive Treatment System.]

[Image of an overhead views of water containment areas.]

The pasture system is as the name implies. We allow nature to take its course. As the water comes to the surface, we intercept that water and we send it through a series of ditches and channels to give the water a chance to neutralize through contact with limestone. And then, it goes through a settling pond to allow the precipitation of any metals that are in the water. And then a wetland for filtration.

(Image of an overhead view of a wetland.]

[Image of a worker waving, standing in front of a Government of Canada sign that says Public Works and Government Services Canada, New Victoria Mine Water Treatment Facility.]

[Image of two workers overlooking water running through a filtering system.]

[Outside Image of the exterior of the water treatment plant.]

[Image of machines inside the water treatment plant.]

[Image of a worker collecting water samples with a stick held canister.]

[Close-up image of gloved hands pulling out water samples in a glass container from a trough.]

[Image of an overhead view of water containment area.]

(Image of an overhead view of water ditch flowing into the ocean.]

But for the act of water treatment, we intercept the mine water in the mine. We pump it into a plant, where we add lime. So by adding lime or neutralizing the acids in the water and as we neutralize that the metals precipitate out and they form a sludge. So the sludge gets separated from the water. The water is then sent out to a settling pond and a wetland system before it's discharged to the environment.

[Image of Breton Campbell speaking to the camera.]

[Image of a heritage photo of miners standing outside of a fenced town with wooden homes.]

[Image of a wood planked pathway leading out into a landing overlooking the ocean.]

[Image of marsh water filtering through an opening.]

[Image of an overhead view of a worker walking inside the water treatment plant.]

The nature of our work, is such that, it's not in the forefront of the community. The mines being underground themselves, the old shaft buildings and the veiled work buildings, they're all long gone. So our work is very behind-the-scenes. We know that the problem is there, but by and large, the community is unaware of the issue. I like to think that's because we do such a good job containing it.

[Image of an overhead view of a vehicle passing over a bridge above a waterway.]

[Image of an overhead view a waterway leading out into the ocean.]

[Image of Joseph MacPhee speaking to the camera.]

[Image of a hill top with several wind turbines.]

I'd be most proud of it, the environment that we're saving. I have four kids that grow up here. We can see areas where we have done remediation. The difference before and after, and it's dramatic. And for those kids, for them to be able to see, this is what we do and this is what we can do. Then that's important. They need to learn that the world is a perishable product. If we don't take care of it, then there's nothing left for us.

[Image of a heritage photo of four miners working the mines.]

[Image of a cement passageway. Miner with a construction hat is walking through it.]

[Image of Sheldon Gouthro speaking to the camera.]

My father was a coal miner. My both grandfathers were coal miners. I wanted to stay on the island. So, I ended up in the coal mines. Don't get me wrong. I loved it. I loved every day of it.

(Text on screen: This video was produced in accordance with public health guidelines in place at the time of recording)

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