A tailings pond breach in central British Columbia this week is raising questions about how mine waste is being taken care of in northern Ontario.
The recent disaster at the Mount Polley Mine released billions of litres of wastewater into river systems. But, according to Laurentian University professor David Pearson, the tailings ponds here in the North often aren’t built at all.
They’re existing lakes or wetland — and that’s what makes them safer. “It’s not like a pond on a parking lot where a break would cause a massive flood,” Pearson said.
Even so, companies that want to mine in Ontario must prove they can rehabilitate a site or pay for a cleanup before they begin production. And the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines makes inspections every few years.
Former Glencore scientist Lisa Leger said Ontario has strict protocols to prevent what happened in B.C. “I was heavily involved in risk management and know that the companies will definitely listen to all the concerns.” But environmental groups like Mining Watch Canada remain skeptical that full-site rehabilitation after such a disaster is ever possible.
The Canadian program co-ordinator with Mining Watch Canada said there are always risks associated with storing massive amounts of tailings.
“Regardless of how responsible a company is, up until a point where there’s a breach … there’s little they can do once that happens to prevent the tailings from, from moving downstream,” Ramsey Hart said.
For the original site of this article and two radio interviews: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/tailings-ponds-in-northern-ontario-considered-safe-scientist-says-1.2730124