Mount Polley Mine tailings water ‘very close’ to drinking quality, company says – by Rhiannon Coppin and Bal Brach (CBC British Columbia – August 5, 2014)

Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch says he would drink water from tailings pond that leaked into rivers

Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch says the company accepts full responsibility for the breach that caused a massive failure at the Mount Polley Mine in central B.C. on Monday and sent billions of litres of wastewater into river systems.

“I apologize for what happened,” Kynoch said at a news conference plagued with technical problems in Likely, B.C., on Tuesday afternoon. “If you asked me two weeks ago if this could have happened, I would have said it couldn’t.”

Wastewater and tailings sediment from Imperial Metals’s Mount Polley copper and gold mine near Likely has contaminated several lakes, creeks and rivers in the Cariboo region, causing officials to evacuate local campgrounds and enact a number of water-use and drinking water bans.

When asked why the dam failed, sending an estimated 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand into Polley Lake​, Kynoch said, “Until we conduct an investigation, I would just be speculating.”

Several times while he was speaking, Kynoch was interrupted by questions from concerned residents who wanted to know the extent of the environmental impact of the spill.

“This is a gut-wrenching experience, I can assure you it is for me,” he responded. “I don’t know why it happened.”

Kynoch said the company needs a few more days to see what the outcome of the breach will be. “The crews have been asked to stay home because we’re not operating the mine,” he said.

Residents repeatedly asked Kynoch about the quality of the contaminated water. Kynoch insisted the water quality is good, even saying he would drink it.

“It’s very close to drinking water quality, the water in our tailings,” he said. “There’s almost everything in it but at low levels…. No mercury, very low arsenic and very low other metals.”

Repeated government warnings

Meanwhile, the B.C. Ministry of Environment says it warned Imperial Metals about the Mount Polley mine tailings pond levels repeatedly before this week’s devastating breach.

In an email to CBC News, ministry spokesperson Kim Franklin said the ministry gave the firm its latest of five warnings in May, this time for exceeding the permitted height of wastewater within the tailings pond.

The company, Franklin writes, has applied for two permit amendments in recent years to allow the mine to discharge an increasing amount of wastewater.

The first of these, in 2009, prompted an independent report. The second, submitted this summer, was under consideration by the ministry at the time of the tailings pond breach.

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