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No. 243: Environmental studies at Mestersvig 2014

Aastrup, P., Bach, L., Søndergaard, J. & Gustavson, K. 2018. Miljøundersøgelser ved Mestersvig 2014. Aarhus Universitet, DCE – Nationalt Center for Miljø og Energi, 36 s. - Videnskabelig rapport fra DCE - Nationalt Center for Miljø og Energi nr. 243. http://dce2.au.dk/pub/SR243.pdf


In the years 1956-63, the mining company ‘Nordisk Mineselskab’ extracted lead and zink from the mine at Blyklippen near Mestersvig in Northeast Greenland. Since the first monitoring surveys in 1979, 7 environmental studies have been carried out. This report presents the most recent surveys in 2014 and compare the results with the previous surveys in the area.

In 2014 studies in the marine environment included beach sand, bottom sediments in Nyhavn, seaweed, sculpins and sea water, and in the terrestrial environment the studies included lichens and fresh water.

More than 50 years after closure of the mine, the studies show that concentrations of lead and zinc still are elevated in lichens in areas nearby the mine and at the middle part of the old road running from the mine to Nyhavn. Also at Nyhavn concentrations are elevated both in lichens on land, and in the fjord in the beach sand, bottom sediments, sculpins and seaweed.

At the mine site the source of contamination is tailings immediately downstream of the mine. Along the road the most likely source is dust being distributed from the Hessian sacks with ore, which were transported from the mine to Nyhavn on open trucks from 1956 to 1963. In areas with specially increased concentrations south of Tunnelelv’s branching the source of contamination is unknown. It can be bags with concentrate dropped from a truck, but it cannot be ruled out, that there is a local natural source.

In the branch of the river Tunnelelv system passing the tailings at the mine, measurements show that there is still a supply of lead and zinc to the freshwater environment and thereby also to the fjord. The measurements indicate, however, that there is a significant dilution in the river Tunnelelv.

At Nyhavn contamination on land probably derive from the dust being spilt in connection with transport and unloading of sacks with ore from trucks. In the fjord the source may be charges from the barges used to transport the ore from the dock to ships anchored in the fjord, as well as the collapsed quayside facility. The  exact size and location of the contamination source is not known.

Since the pollution has decreased since about 1991 it is assessed that no immediate additionally monitoring is needed. Due to the uncertainty of the source's size and exact location the downward trend may not continue. Therefor the suggestion is that environmental monitoring surveys is to be carried out in 8-12 years unless renewed pollution is reported.