Testing of water samples from Quesnel Lake has turned up small amounts of arsenic, cadmium, and mercury in the wake of the Mount Polley mine tailings spill, but the level of contaminants is within drinking water guidelines.
The B.C. Ministry of Environment today (August 7) released its initial test results following Imperial Metals Corporation's tailings dam breach on August 4, which sent millions of cubic metres of contaminated water and sand into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake, near Likely, B.C.
"Samples collected near the Town Site of Likely and on the North Shore of Quesnel Lake indicate that none of the analysed chemical and physical contaminant concentrations exceeded BC or Health Canada Drinking Water Guidelines. E.coli concentrations were below or just above the guideline at typical concentrations for lakes in BC and well below the disinfection and partial treatment guidelines. The detected value of 1 E.coli / 100mL is not likely a result of the tailings discharge," ministry biologist Gabriele Matscha wrote in a memo.
The concentrations of contaminants is also "well below aquatic life guidelines", according to the memo.
"Based on the above impact to aquatic life and fish is not expected," Matscha stated.
"Fish tissue samples have not yet been collected, however, tissue sampling is planned in the near future. Generally bio-accumulation of contaminants in fish muscle tissue occurs over a longer exposure time than a few days."
Despite the results, the Interior Health Authority is keeping its drinking water ban in place for Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake, and the Quesnel River system to the Fraser River.
"A team of Medical Health Officers and water specialists from Interior Health have reviewed the water sample results, and while these initial samples meet both provincial and Canadian drinking water guidelines, additional sampling is required before a final determination can be made on the current water use restrictions," the health authority stated on its website.
Environmentalist Glenda Ferris has said that the public should be skeptical of government and company claims about the spill.
"They're going to tell us that everything is fine," Ferris told the Straight before the release of the results. "They're going to tell us that they tested the tailings and they're not toxic or that they have just minor little amounts of mercury and cadmium in them, and everything is going to be fine."
Meanwhile, Sierra Club B.C. is calling on the province to set up an independent committee of experts to investigate the disaster.