Specializing in the design, installation and operation of containerized wastewater treatment systems, Canadian Shield beats harsh weather and meets tough environmental standards in the Great White North
Canadian Shield Consultants Agency Inc. is an environmental services company that’s made a name for itself providing onsite wastewater service to remote gas, oil and mining sites. Initially focusing on wastewater system design, the company has since expanded to offer turnkey service, including system design, manufacture, installation and operation. Its specialty: self-contained treatment units, ready for shipping to remote mining and exploration sites.
Located halfway between Sudbury and North Bay, in St. Charles, Ontario, Canadian Shield was founded in 1996. However, CEO Gerry Dignard’s interest in wastewater treatment stems from an earlier career as an employee of Agriculture Canada, the country’s federal agriculture ministry.
“I was studying Cysticercus bovis, an infectious disease in cattle that is transmitted by human tapeworms when septic tank effluent is spread over land where cattle graze,” says Dignard. “That led me to start looking at wastewater treatment options and procedures.”
The company initially began as an engineering consulting firm, helping clients to design wastewater treatment systems. Of particular concern at that time was the growth of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in Ontario’s north. The primary culprit was the improper treatment of sewage from the resource sector, exploration camps and tourist enterprises.
Dignard began to offer training in 1998 after a regulatory change that saw oversight of such sewage systems switched from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) under the province’s building code. Leveraging its expertise, the company helped to certify wastewater practitioners, from engineers to installers, on the new regulations.
“The interpretations of the new code became difficult for builders and installers who had never made a formal design presentation to regulators, so they gave us the task of presenting applications for approval,” says Dignard. “Once we had developed that niche, we began to design the systems themselves and finally to install, operate and monitor them.”
Today, the company offers a full complement of design, manufacturing, construction and installation services to a broad range of clientele that includes the residential, commercial and tourist industry. The past five years have seen the company aggressively courting northern Ontario’s GOM sector with an emphasis on mining. Sector work has risen from about 10 percent in 2006 to more than 50 percent.
“The resource sector is very specific in its needs,” says Dignard. “They want turnkey solutions that allow them to concentrate on resource extraction and refining. They don’t want to deal with environmental approvals and regulations if they’re confident someone else will take care of it.”
The staff of 18 includes certified system designers and installers, former MMAH inspectors, engineers, and experts specializing in soil and crop management, erosion control, and biosolids/septage nutrient management protocols.
The work requires local expertise. The Canadian Shield, which covers much of northern Canada, ranges from areas containing sparse soil to none at all. Environmental concerns vary from location to location and overlapping regulations – local, provincial and federal – determine restrictions on site design. Contracts have taken the company to the far north, west to Vancouver and east to Nova Scotia.
Contracts include anything from simple sewage and graywater treatment for exploration camps in the resource-rich Ring of Fire region west of James Bay, to more complex projects treating tailings and process wastewater from mineral processing plants. Clients include Xstrata, QuadraFNX Mining Ltd., North American Palladium, Gold Canyon Resources Inc., Lake Shore Gold Corp. and Rubicon Minerals Corporation.
The law is strict regarding the requirement for onsite wastewater treatment. “If wastewater is moved, it can only be moved under a temporary moratorium before being treated and returned,” says Dignard. “That’s why onsite treatment is critical. As much as possible, the treated industrial process effluent is returned to the system to be reused. That’s more efficient because the standards for discharge to the environment are much higher than the standards required to reuse effluent.”
Toxic mine process water and tailings may contain anything from ammonia to arsenic, cyanide, hydrocarbons, heavy metals and other streams with high levels of total suspended solids. Some of the toxic materials are the byproducts of mineral refining processes, while others are found in the ore itself.
IN A BOX
To treat such effluent, Canadian Shield has recently begun to offer containerized treatment plants shipped in sea containers by rail car, truck, or dozer, or skidded along seasonal ice roads. The units can be operated from the shipping container or moved to a permanent building on the mine site.
The relevant wastewater treatment regulations are outcome-based, meaning that any technology demonstrated to treat the water effectively can be submitted for MOE approval. While the detailed treatment regimens inside the units are a trade secret, the processes involved are well established. Essentially, the containers combine a number of treatment technologies working together to maximum effect.
“For process wastewater, we often use ozone treatment, which causes heavy metals to precipitate so they can be filtered,” says Dignard. “We also use catalytic plates coated with platinum or palladium to neutralize some of the contaminants. The higher the level of contaminant, the higher the grade of rare metal used on the catalytic plates. To remove heavy solids, we run the process water through dewatering tubes, then treat the residual slurry. Any suspended solids remaining in the water are passed through a carbon filter and the pH of the remaining water is adjusted before it’s released to the environment.”
The systems must also be fine-tuned to the mineral being extracted, the purity of the deposit, local geological conditions and the type of mineral refinement process employed.
“If you’re mining copper or nickel as opposed to gold or chromium, that will make a significant difference in the type of treatment we engineer,” says Dignard. “Although we have reliable data about what we might find in a typical mine, each mine may have different characteristics. Gold deposits in northern Quebec, for example, contain more arsenic than elsewhere. Next, we need to look at the effluent stream and analyze the quality of the wastewater. Depending on the purity of the deposit, for example, more cyanide might be used to extract the gold from the deposit.”
Canadian Shield builds most of the units in-house, sourcing major components from other suppliers. The company purchases Flygt pumps from ITT Water & Wastewater, or Myers pumps from the Pentair Pump Group Inc. with smaller pumps from other manufacturers occasionally purchased from supplier Wolseley Canada.
Tanks are largely polyethylene—metal would corrode with exposure to some mine process chemicals.
“The tanks need to be rugged, but who we choose to supply them is largely based on the profile we require to fit into the containers,” says Dignard. “Sometimes they need to be low profile, or fit near the top of the unit to take advantage of gravity flow.” Tanks are purchased from Infiltrator Systems Inc., Snyder Industries Inc., and partner company Premier Tech Aqua of Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec.
The units are customized prior to delivery. Once hooked up to power and effluent sources, the company runs a pilot program lasting from two to four weeks during which time the treatment protocol is optimized. The treatment units include self-contained and self-regulating heating and air-conditioning systems designed to maximize wastewater treatment efficiency regardless of outside temperature.
Canadian Shield is currently preparing a unit for Rubicon’s Phoenix Gold Project, located about halfway between Thunder Bay and Hudson Bay.
“This one is being designed to treat a million liters (264,000 gallons) of process water per day, primarily water containing ammonia,” says Dignard.
For temporary exploration or construction camps, or permanent resource sector encampments, Canadian Shield provides mobile wastewater treatment systems, dubbed the Ecoflo Biofilter, which were recently approved for five northern Ontario mining locations by the MOE. These units treat sewage and graywater.
“There are probably 40 mining and exploration companies active in the Ring of Fire,” says Dignard. “For years, mining camps popped up so quickly that there was no time to measure the impact of these new activities on the environment. Our product is a response to the regulations that finally caught up with the activity.”
Developed with partner Premier Tech Aqua, the containerized units employ a peat moss medium and bacterial technology, which breaks down waste into harmless components. Essentially, the system is a high-tech marsh capable of treating an average of more than 528 gallons (2,000 liters) of water per day. Specially designed for transportation to remote locations, the units can be delivered by road or helicopter.
“Bacteria get cold like we do, but the peat moss generates heat which hastens the bacterial fermentation process,” says Dignard. “It’s a matter of adjusting the process to meet the requirements of the local temperature and climate conditions, so we can achieve the regulated outcome.”
Once the effluent has been treated it can be disinfected and emptied in a subsurface disposal bed or surface pond.
The first Ecoflo unit was installed in February at Gold Canyon Resources’ Springpole Project in the Ear Falls area near the Manitoba border. The unit was designed, manufactured and assembled at the Canadian Shield facility, then disassembled for component delivery.
“We chose to install it during the coldest time of the year because the ice roads leading to the mine are only passable during the winter months,” says Dignard. “At any other time we would have needed to ship by air.”
ICE ROAD DELIVERY
Dignard personally assisted in the delivery, using company trucks on 100 miles of ice roads approaching camp. The company owns 10 trucks and cargo vans, mostly from the General Motors Co., with a 9000 Tandem by the Ford Motor Co. rounding out the fleet.
“The weather that day was one of the nicest of the entire winter,” says Dignard, at -13 degrees F (-25 C) with sunshine and no wind.
Although the ground beneath the container would remain frozen until at least June, the unit was placed on a platform that would sustain its weight when the boggy soil defrosts for a few brief summer months.
“We were able to assemble the unit on the platform, connect it and commission it within about six hours,” says Dignard. “We have been sampling the system every week for the MOE, and so far it’s delivering at 100 percent.”
The units must be pumped out when solids begin to accumulate.
The company is currently working with Waterloo Biofilter Systems Inc. of Waterloo, Ontario on a turnkey biowaste solution involving biofilter “pucks” five feet in diameter and 18 inches thick. The pucks are made of fiberglass and contain foam cubes that process and filter up to 211 gallons (800 liters) of wastewater per day.
“They’re designed to transport by smaller planes or helicopter,” says Dignard. “The design life for a puck is about 20 years and up to six of them can be stacked together in parallel to treat additional volumes of either sewage or graywater.”
The product is being manufactured under the direction of Canadian Shield at D & L Concrete & Fiberglass Products Ltd. of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Dignard predicts that GOM sector wastewater regulations will continue to get tougher. In response, the company will continue to research new treatment technologies and combine them with existing technologies in an effort to create the most effective treatment systems available.
“We want to create something extremely robust that works as passively as possible,” says Dignard. “Trained personnel will always be in short supply in the north, so our ultimate goal is to build a system that works even when nobody’s there.”