‘Unbelievable devastation’: Massive mining waste spill causes water ban in Canada
Some 10 million cubic meters of water and 4.5 million cubic
meters of fine sand from the tailings pond of the Mount Polley
copper and gold mine spilled over into lakes and creeks in the
area on Monday, according to a statement by the British
Columbia’s Environment Minister Bill Bennett, released the
The waste waters that are now out in the wild are likely to contain lead, arsenic, zinc, mercury and phosphorus, as that’s what 2013 research found in the pond, according to a report from Environment Canada.
The water is currently being tested for possible contamination. Meanwhile, 300 people living in the affected area have been warned not to drink local water and also to keep pets and livestock away from it.
The aerial footage of Mount Polley posted by Cariboo Regional District shows a washed out road and massive amounts of grey muddy water all over the region with loads of uprooted trees flowing in it.
"The devastation up the lake is unbelievable," a local
resident Peggy Zorn told CBC.
"The tailings pond is so full of chemicals. The water is green, fish floating.... It's sad," another local, Lawna Bourassa, told the news outlet.
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Imperial Metals Corp., the owner of the Mount Polley mine, saw its shares plunge by 40 percent on Tuesday as a result of the event.
The company has nevertheless been putting a brave face on the matter. Brian Kynoch, president of Imperial Metals Corp., told a crowd of about 200 people from the affected communities that tailings pond water is almost drinking water quality.
"The solids at Mount Polley are relatively benign — low mercury, very low arsenic, low metal content," Kynoch said as cited by the Canadian Press. The company’s president went as far as saying he himself would still drink the water in the area.
The company apologized for the accident assured it was not possible to foresee it coming.
"Monitoring instruments and onsite personnel had no indication of an impending breach," the Imperial Metals statement reads.
However, a report was issued by Brian Olding and Associates Ltd. in 2011 which warned the tailings pond was accumulating water too quickly.
"A sustainable means of discharging excess water is required because dam building cannot continue indefinitely," the report said.
The firm has also been warned of exceeding the permitted height of wastewater within the tailings pond by the Ministry of Environment, as the ministry’s spokesman told CBC News in an email. Imperial Metals is now being criticized for not reacting to the warnings of years ago.
Residents of the area near the mine are concerned with the economic impact the breached pond might have on them. Many of the local residents are miners and the mine has been closed following the accident and it’s not clear when or if it becomes operational again.