Massive toxic waste spill contaminates BC rivers

B. McPherson
No words can describe the damage done to our environment
A massive tailings spill from a mine in British Columbia’s Cariboo region has fouled rivers, lakes and land. An estimated five million cubic metres of toxic waste escaped from a breach in a berm holding back the sludgy waste. The Mount Polley copper and gold mine run by Imperial Metals has contaminated the whole of the Cariboo and Quesnel River systems as well as Quesnel Lake.

There is a complete ban on water usage in these systems. About 300 people live in the affected area, but authorities are not sure if that number is accurate. Of course, that does not inform the wildlife in the area or the range cattle about the dangers.

Mine tailings from this kind of operation often contain substantial amounts of arsenic, mercury and sulphur as well as numerous other metals. Unfortunately, the mine operators were unable to provide an accurate accounting of the sludge that escaped.

Imperial Metals has three operations currently in BC. Their homepage has a three word mantra – Discover, Develop, Operate – no nod to environmental protection. They had no information for the public when the dam breached on the 4th. Today they had little more information except to say that the dam had stabilized and that detection equipment didn’t detect the imminent break. They also were in the dark as to the makeup of the slurry which looks like gray oozing clay.

“Exact quantities of water and tailings discharged have yet to be determined. The tailings are alkaline with an average ph of 8.5 and are not acid generating.

Imperial Metals has tried to assure the public that the tailings are not toxic while at the same time state that they don’t know the exact makeup of the waste material. Even if the tailings prove to be light in heavy metal content, that won’t help the spawning salmon which will fight their way up from the Pacific Ocean to lay their eggs. Salmon must spawn in clean, clear gravel beds.

BC is looking forward to a large return of sockeye salmon to the rivers and streams this year. They are starting on their way up to the spawning streams where they hatched. Fishing is a multimillion dollar industry in BC.

Investors are deserting the company in droves. The Financial Post has reported a 44% drop in the company’s stock. It makes me wonder who will pay for the cleanup and the costs to the people if Imperial Metals goes bankrupt. The company may face a one million dollar fine for this incident, but clean up, if it can be done, will take far more.

Today the Williams Lake First Nations have announced that they may not give permission for the open pit mine to re-open.

Imperial Metals       

Financial Post      

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