Gold mine tailings are the by-product of a mining process used in the 1800s and early 1900s in Nova Scotia and many other areas. The tailings contain arsenic and mercury. They are generally in remote locations. Some are located near people.
Most Nova Scotians are probably never exposed to tailings. People who live near them may have some exposure, depending on their activities. There is no recent evidence of Nova Scotians becoming ill from mercury or arsenic. But people should be aware that exposure may be hazardous and should avoid tailings.
Nova Scotians can avoid exposure by taking simple measures:
- test well water and if there's arsenic present, install treatment technology and continue testing to ensure it's working
- don't use tailings for recreation and don't let children play on them; getting tailings or dust into your mouth may be harmful to your health.
- don't use tailings as fill for driveways, gardens or children's sandboxes
- remove shoes after being outdoors around tailings, so soil won't be tracked into the house
- wash hands frequently and before eating
- wash fruits and vegetables before eating, whether they're from the grocery store or a private garden
- follow freshwater fish advisories to reduce mercury intake
There are 64 gold mining districts in Nova Scotia from Guysborough to Yarmouth County. View a provincial map of the gold mining districts (PDF: 927k). Please note that each district may have more than one tailings site as most sites are not very large.
Learn more about:
- gold mine tailings (PDF: 16k)
- arsenic from gold mine tailings (PDF: 20k)
- mercury from gold mine tailings (PDF: 16k)
- what gold mine tailings look like (PDF: 378k)
Provincial and Federal Government Departments
Experts from ten provincial and federal departments have formed an advisory group to let Nova Scotians know how to avoid exposure to gold mine tailings and to continue researching in order to made future decisions on managing the tailings sites.
Environment and Labour
Agriculture and Fisheries
Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations
Natural Resources Canada
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
If you don't find the answers to your questions on this website, you can contact an expert with one of the provincial or federal departments involved in historic gold mines by calling the provincial public inquiries line: 424-5200 in Halifax Regional Municipality or 1-800-670-4357. Calls will be directed to the appropriate department for answers.