Mount Polley spill: Drinking water ban still in place following initial water tests

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      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.




      Aug 7, 2014 at 9:53pm

      Read between the lines, they have avoided testing Polley Lake and Hazeltine Creek because it seems they've already been DESTROYED! These results are only for Quesnel lake - the least affected waterway - how's that for biased results? The Premier says 'it's within drinking water guidelines", yet keep the ban in place? Tailings effluent getting into the Fraser River system is a unfolding disaster that cannot be measured or quantified in days. We are being lied to again in plain sight! Thank you to all the people on the ground who will fight this to the end. I'm just a Toronto boy who feels absolutely helpless in the face of this criminality...I want the madness and the lies and PR tactics to stop. This is really, really bad everybody.

      Steve Cooley

      Aug 8, 2014 at 8:28am

      It is nice that the ecoli count is included in this water quality report. Ecoli is about the last contaminant that I would expect to find in an operating tailings pond. Including it in this report is OK, but it is, or should be, a footnote now.

      How close to the mouth of Hazeltine creek was the sample taken? I doubt that it is an unreasonable hazard to run a boat into the discoloured water to collect a sample that includes the particulates from the tailings pond.


      Aug 8, 2014 at 11:47am

      By my rough assessment of the sampling locations it would appear they are at least 8 miles from where Hazeltine Creek empties into Quesnel Lake. So of course those samples are going to be clear on the same day as the tailing pond dam failure. These results, no doubt accurate, are unfortunately meaningless. A cynical person can read this as an intentional misdirection hoping the media loses interest in the story.


      Aug 9, 2014 at 10:54am

      Imperial Metals Corporation CEO can help put the region at ease. He said water was good to drink and tests actually confirmed it. So for the sake of the people using the land for sustenance, let us witness your family (your children to your grandparents) consume, exclusively, this water and dead fish caused by Imperial.

      Quit standing in your ivory tower with your personal assets insulated by a corporation's limited-liability. Bring a shovel and tube of Bengay to the site and let us witness you physically clean up this little 'breach' until the entire mess is gone. May take years so overtime permitted.


      Sep 1, 2014 at 7:02pm

      Cound'nt agree with you more AC,have summer home on the lake and have attended all meetings,Quesnel Lake water has been provided for all management of Polley mine to drink,they continue to REFUSE?????? dont know why??? by there account its safe???