Mount Polley mine tailings breach is “wake-up call” for B.C., environmentalist says

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Local environmental groups and experts are concerned about the potential impacts of a tailings pond breach at Mount Polley mine in northern B.C.

Craig Orr, the executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said these kinds of spills tend to have both short-term and long-term impacts, the extent of which might not be known for a decade.

“I think anybody that’s concerned with the health of the Fraser has to be very concerned with this disaster in the making, and I don’t think that’s too strong of a word for this, because what I’ve seen in terms of some of the chemicals in the tailings, you know, zinc, arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, copper, things like that—some of those have very short-term toxic impacts, and some of them have longer-term…impacts on aquatic life,” Orr said in a phone interview.

Orr is particularly concerned about an estimated 1.5 million sockeye salmon that are expected to return to the Quesnel Lake system, which has been affected by the tailings pond breach.

“Although it’s still early to firm up that number, Quesnel has been one of the stronger returns of sockeye over the years,” he said.

“So we don’t know what the impacts of this will be, but I think people have to be very concerned, because it will persist in some of the sediments, the mine-tailing chemicals and heavy metals, and it has potential for both short-term and long-term impacts in the Fraser.”

Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner at Sierra Club BC, said the incident that occurred Monday (August 4) should be a “wake-up call” for B.C.

“Because we have similarly dangerous industrial projects across the province, and lots of new projects with similar risks are being proposed all the time, and the same company, Imperial Metals, is proposing a copper mine and a gold mine project in Clayoquot Sound, which is just one example of another fantastic ecologically important region that people care about in B.C. and elsewhere, and where we should not even have a discussion around a project like this with this level of risk,” he told the Straight by phone.

“It’s really important for the government to take action quickly in the affected region and take a closer look at our environmental standards, our planning, monitoring, and risk response, because we have similar risks in many parts of the province, and we must not allow catastrophes of this kind in B.C.”

Orr said the incident raises “obvious concerns” over Canada weakening its environmental protection legislation.

“It seems like the environment is less important to government than it ever has been, but it’s still very, very important to British Columbians, especially the Fraser River,” he said.

Bill Bennett, B.C.’s minister responsible for energy and mines, called the tailings pond breach “a serious incident that should not have happened”.

“We are devoting every appropriate resource working with local officials to clean up the site, mitigate any impacts to communities and the environment, and investigate the cause of the breach,” he said in a statement.

“We will determine the cause of the event and we are determined to prevent an incident like this from happening again.”

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan also commented on the incident, stating that the breach “has the potential to have a devastating effect on people, livestock and wild animals in the region for many years to come”.

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Industry Kills

Aug 5, 2014 at 6:23pm

The name says it all. There is no such thing as an environmentally friendly industry because all industries produce waste and all industries rely on mining resources, which produces even more insidious waste. If you want the comforts that arise from industry, then you will need to accept the destruction that arises from the wastes of industry, If you do not want to accept the destruction, then you will need to live without the comforts. Unfortunately, the latter is steam-rolled by the former because the former produces the power from industry to suppress the latter who are defenseless in the face of industrial deprivation.

germs

Aug 5, 2014 at 7:34pm

@Industry Kills. You mean i cant have my copper and eat it, too?

Boris Moris

Aug 5, 2014 at 9:38pm

This is another serious black eye for Harper and Krusty and their gutted and defunded oversight budget. This pig ignorant resource sector is Harper's baby. He nurtures this chemical disease the same way a healthy cell becomes cancerous. Harper and his ilk hate nature and are hastening total collapse of all eco systems with dangerous and ignorant attitudes.

And one of Harper's, and the resource industry's, biggest boosters and certified fartcatchers wants to be Vancouver's next mayor. The Province had the spill on page 3 today. Watch for mass media cycles this story into limited coverage and out of peoples minds. That's the kind of thing the Non Principled do. They distort, mislead, omit and tout the rich and their entourage.

Hippo Critter

Aug 6, 2014 at 6:51am

And just what would/could the NDP/Federal Liberals have done to prevent this dam from breaching?

@Hippo Critter

Aug 6, 2014 at 11:34am

They would/could have kept the protections of The Navigable Waters Act. Gutted by the HarperCons, only 62 bodies of water in all Canada are protected now.

Chris

Aug 6, 2014 at 11:55am

The company should have had a back up plan for excess water. The Indian tribe should have allowed the mine to discharge excess water and the tribe should have allowed the company to amend their permit to do so years ago (but they didn't). This is a terrible event, but due to the resilience of mother nature, in a couple years there will be no visual or measurable effect of this event. Save all the wailing for now. We have learned from such tragedies in the past and so should we here, not cry the Sky is Falling and put our heads in the sand.

Toxic Sludge

Aug 6, 2014 at 12:58pm

The company said in a public meeting that the water is NOT toxic. This may, or may not be the case, but what about the sludge that was washed out with it? Surely that must accumulate toxic metal over time.

cathy

Aug 6, 2014 at 1:49pm

This is no 'wake up call' for many of us who are fighting for the land, water, air, animals and fish-we are wide awake and scared for the future of our Planet or lack of one.

The government's are not asleep, they are in bed with rotten lying corporations who will destroy us all in the name of profits.

Heads up!

Aug 6, 2014 at 3:09pm

The Koch Bros. from the US have been very quietly buying up water rights through proxies- in Canada for awhile now. Interesting that this "accident" happens now.

Keep in mind- Prime Minister Harper changed the law a few years ago- water is no longer defined as one of the neccessities of life...it is now a commodity- which we can be charged our eyeteeth for.

Sven

Aug 6, 2014 at 3:59pm

Former workers have come forward and stated there was a breach in the exact same area just last May. This is an environmental crime and the perps need to be prosecuted and held personally liable for this disaster.

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