Nearly three dozen mine-waste storage facilities could affect 33 First Nation communities
A report that shows a widespread fallout zone for mine-waste storage facilities in northern and central B.C. has led to a call for more protection of watersheds, assurance that communities receive long-term benefits, and creation of a cleanup fund.
The survey being released today was commissioned by the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council in the wake of Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine-waste dam failure last year.
The breach released millions of cubic metres of finely ground rock containing potentially toxic metals, called tailings, into the Quesnel Lake watershed, resulting in heightened concerns over dam safety and the long-term effects on aquatic life.
The new report — Uncertainty Upstream: Potential Threats from Tailings Facility Failures in Northern British Columbia — found 35 mine-waste storage facilities at 26 active and closed mine could affect 33 First Nations communities if there is a breach.
Another 200 communities are also in areas that could be affected by a breach, including major centres such as Prince George, Smithers and Terrace, said the report.
Computer-generated geographic data shows a total of 3,275 kilometres of waterways are immediately downstream of the 35 mine-waste storage facilities, and 5,403 km lie in watersheds further downstream where the contaminants could eventually reach.
The mining council said pollution could affect water quality and be devastating to salmon and steelhead, which the report notes are acutely sensitive to copper that is common in acid-rock drainage from mine waste.
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