Possible contamination after tailings pond for Imperial Metals’ mine breached, sending millions of cubic meters of waste into waterways southeast of Quesnel
The millions of cubic metres of water that poured out of Mount Polley mine when the dam collapsed had failed provincial water quality guidelines for human and aquatic health in the past, according to the B.C. environment ministry.
Data sent to the ministry by Mount Polley as recently as Monday showed that selenium concentration exceeded drinking water guidelines by a factor of 2.8 times.
There have also been drinking water exceedances of sulphate over the last few years, according to information supplied to The Vancouver Sun by environment ministry spokesman Dave Crebo.
Aquatic water guidelines have also been exceeded in the past for nitrate, cadmium, copper and iron.
The release of 10 million cubic metres of water — enough to fill BC Place more than four times — is also potentially contaminated with toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury, a concern for hundreds of area residents’ water supply and important salmon habitat.
According to 2013 data the company released to Environment Canada on disposal of chemicals, Mount Polley mine disposed of almost 84,000 kilograms of arsenic and its compounds through tailings last year, as well as about 1,000 kg of cadmium, 38,000 kg of lead and 562 kg of mercury.
Mount Polley, operated by Imperial Metals, is an open-pit copper and gold mine with a four-kilometre-wide tailings pond built with an earthen dam located in central B.C., west of Williams Lake and near the community of Likely.
Provincial officials are conducting tests of water samples from the area. Until results come back, the severity of the contamination remains unknown and a drinking water ban remains in effect for about 300 people in the immediate vicinity.
Imperial Metals president Bryan Kynoch apologized to Likely-area residents gathered at a community hall Tuesday afternoon, and said the company would do all it could to make right the effects of the dam collapse. “I know it’s going to take a long time to earn the community’s trust back,” he said. “This is a gut-wrenching experience, I know for you, but I can assure you it is for me.”
Making it right includes reclaiming the environment, but also compensating in areas such as potential tourism business losses, he said.
More than 150 townspeople crowded into the hall to hear from Kynoch, provincial Mines Minister Bill Bennett and regional district officials.
Kynoch said he did not know why the dam collapsed, but acknowledged it is not supposed to happen.
He said he believed there was not likely to be danger to people, fish and animals.
Asked if he would drink the water, Kynoch shot back: “Yes, I’d drink the water.”
The company would soon have boats in the water to ensure that the debris did not reach the bridge in the community, Kynoch added.
He said he couldn’t say whether the mine would reopen, but noted that he would do all in his power to ensure it did.
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