Red flags raised years before B.C. mine-tailings spill, consultant says by Andrea Woo and Alexandra Posadzki, August 5, 2014, The Globe and Mail
A tailings-pond breach in central British Columbia spewed enough waste water to fill 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools into the province’s pristine waterways and triggered a local state of emergency – but a consultant who worked with the mining company says red flags were raised years earlier.
The spill from Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley copper/gold mine in B.C.’s Cariboo region on Monday happened just weeks after the mining company asked provincial authorities for permission to increase the amount of treated waste water it could release from the tailings pond. Ministry officials said in a statement on Tuesday they were considering the request when the breach occurred.
According to preliminary data from Environment Canada’s 2013 National Pollutant Release Inventory, the Mount Polley mine disposed of substances including arsenic (406,122 kg in 2013), lead (177,041 kg) and mercury (3,114 kg).
As many as 300 people have been forced to use bottled water and to avoid bathing or giving pets and livestock tap water as a result of tailings pond burst. Residents’ worries go beyond environmental – some say the impact will include lost jobs in tourism and mining.
Darlene Biggs, who owns the High Country Inn in Lakely, said businesses in the community are “doomed,” and many young residents will not be able to find jobs in the area and will be forced to move away. “It’s going to stop our tourism industry,” Ms. Biggs said. “It’s going to stop the town because none of these kids are going to be able to work here any more. What’s going to bring people into Lakely? You can’t swim in our lake at this point. And you can’t fish. It’s going to really, really hurt us.”
Brian Olding, president of environmental planning company Brian Olding & Associates Ltd., was hired as an independent consultant in 2011 to review a technical report from Imperial Metals, which at the time was seeking an effluent discharge permit for the Mount Polley mine.
“We went through it and found discrepancies and provided recommendations,” Mr. Olding said. Those recommendations included developing a sedimentation pond for testing water from the tailings pond, and a ground water monitoring system so the mine could detect any leaks from the tailings pond. The mine, under no legal obligation to act on recommendations, did not follow through on all of them, Mr. Olding said. The company did receive an effluent release permit, allowing it to discharge some water, but it was seeking another permit that would allow it to discharge more water by treating it first.
“They know that they have faced a problem – a concern with more water coming in than water going out,” Mr. Olding said. “If they had started discharging the water and treating it some time ago, then it would take the pressures off the dam. … Clearly, a buildup of water is not a good thing.”
B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said government and company officials will get to the bottom of what happened and make sure it does not happen again.
“We don’t know how bad, we don’t know the quality of the water that was in the tailings pond,” [Isn’t it his job to know, before a breach, intentional or otherwise?] he said. “I am advised it was fairly high quality water and I hope that turns out to be the case.” [Is “hope” legal or enforceable?”
Gerald MacBurney, a foreman at the dam for seven years before he recently quit, said the dam was breached last May and that weakened the whole system.
“When you get a breach, there’s more than one spot it breached. It weakened the whole system,” he said in an interview. “And that’s where it popped, right where it was breached. … I knew it was going to burst.”
An emotional Mr. Kynock flatly denied the claim: “The dam has never failed before,” he said.
The Ministry of Environment has completed its water sampling of the area and has shipped samples off for analysis. Results of the tests – which will look at pH levels and the potential presence of metals and other contaminants – could take between two and four days.
The Cariboo Regional District has trucked in water to Likely, said district chair Al Richmond. “We set up a tank [Monday] night and we will fill that up, so that folks can come fill their bottles there.”
Mr. Richmond said the district would ask Imperial Metals about Brian Olding & Associates Ltd.’s 2011 report at a meeting on Tuesday. “That report identified some concerns. We’ll be asking the Mount Polley people what they’ve done with that report.” [Emphasis added]
Local emergency declared in B.C. as Imperial president apologizes for toxic leak by Dene Moore, The Canadian Press, August 6, 2014, The Globe and Mail
LIKELY, B.C. – The president of Imperial Metals has apologized to residents living downstream from a toxic leak from one of the company’s gold and copper mines in the B.C. Interior.
Brian Kynoch told about 200 residents of Likely, 600 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, that the failure at the Mount Polley mine has been stabilized but the investigation is just beginning.
“I apologize for what happened,” Kynoch said at the emotionally charged meeting Tuesday night. “If you had asked me two weeks ago if that could happen, I would have said it couldn’t happen, so I know that for our company it’s going to take a long time to earn the community’s trust back.”
The breach released 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of toxic silt into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.
The Cariboo Regional District declared a state of local emergency early Wednesday. The move will allow access to additional resources that may be needed to further protect the private property and government infrastructure in Likely.
Al Richmond of the regional district said tests were being expedited and results are expected by Thursday.
A ban remains in place on all consumption or recreational use of the Quesnel and Cariboo river systems from the spill site to the Fraser River, several hundred kilometres away.
B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said ministry inspectors were at the mine investigating the cause of the failure and Environment Ministry staff were conducting water tests to determine the full extent of environmental impacts.
Kynoch said the company will clean up the slurry that breached an earthen dam at the mine.
Despite assertions that the company had been warned of potential problems, Kynoch said the dam had never before failed. Levels in the tailings pond were too high and there was some overflow into the creek in May, he said. “These things should not happen so we do need to know why it happened. It’s not just for this site. We need to know why that failed because it’s not supposed to fail.” [Ya, and CEO’s, politicians, academics, companies and regulators the world over, lie and promise that fracing only ever occurs deep, far below drinking water aquifers]
Kynoch said water from the tailings pond was “very close to drinking water quality,” though the silt – the “ground-up rock” left over after extracting the metals – poses a problem.
A summary of material dumped into the tailings pond last year was filed with Environment Canada. It said there was 326 tonnes of nickel, over 400,000 kilograms of arsenic, 177,000 kilograms of lead and 18,400 tonnes of copper and its compounds placed in the pond last year. [Will the Harper government make Canadians pay to clean this up? Will the breach turn into an economic windfall for the company CEO and directors?]
“Specifically, mercury has never been detected in our water and arsenic levels are about one-fifth of drinking water quality,” Kynoch told residents. “We regularly perform toxicity tests and we know this water is not toxic to rainbow trout.” The water use ban is in place to “err on the side of caution,” Kynoch said. [Where have we heard that before?]
A logging company crew was able to tow a log jam away from the Quesnel River, averting potential flooding or damage to a bridge in Likely but residents were frustrated with the lack of information in the hours and days after the breach.
Diane Gibson, owner of the post office and restaurant on the Likely riverfront, said she heard nothing until she went to nearby Williams Lake and overheard the news in a store.
And Alfred Hillary, a business owner who lives just below the mine, said their phones were out and he didn’t receive a phone call. He heard about the breach over his emergency responder radio.
Hillary blamed the mine for failing to address earlier problems but in the small community devastated by the downturn in the local forest industry, many residents were prepared to stand by the company.
“This town relies upon Mount Polley, so we’re hurting,” Gibson said. “I, personally, don’t blame Mount Polley. There’s lots of people who will point fingers. It is unnecessary to point fingers until we’re in full view of the facts.
“Needless to say, it’s going to hurt us regardless of whose fault it is. We can be very, very thankful that nobody was hurt in this.” [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
Alberta Environment needs to stop lying about water contamination: One billion litres of waste water contaminated Athabasca River with mercury levels 9 times more than normal, PAHs 4 times more than allowed ]