Finland Toxic Spill Worst Ever in History

B. McPherson

All too often resource extraction promises big bucks but delivers big headaches.


Finland is waking up to the realization that they are coping with their worst toxic spill ever. A formerly pristine area of eastern Finland has become fouled by uranium and nickel. Leachate ponds for the Talvivaara Mine have failed and are allowing toxic levels of nickel to spill into nearby waterways. 

The local health people say that the levels of radiation from the uranium are below levels that would damage health – unless the radioactive material gets into the drinking water supply. That means that people cannot use the water from lakes, streams or rivers in the area for cooking or drinking. Due to the possible impact on skin, it is also recommended that people not use the water in their saunas.

The Talvivaara mine is an open pit operation, extracting low grade nickel sulphide. Other metals extracted include copper, zinc and cobalt. The method used is a leaching process where the crushed ore sits in ponds in a leaching solution. It is the main pond that has failed this time.

Local tourist operators in the area of the Talvivaara mine complain that the rotten egg smell from the leaching ponds have ruined their business. A worker at the site not correctly wearing protective gear has died from breathing the toxic fumes. Hydrogen sulphide combines with oxygen in the air to form sulphuric acid.

The beautiful lakes, rivers and creeks – clean freshwater - are the most valuable asset Finns have. You wouldn’t think that we would let somebody poison them. But it happened. The people downstream feel themselves totally powerless, and fear their own drinking water. Greenpeace

Many times entrepreneurs sell a local population on the value of a resource extraction project. They predict good paying jobs, tax money for improvements and a higher standard of living. All too often there’s a short burst of affluence and then the environmental bill comes due.

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