Arsenic likely spilled into river: watchdog
A spill of material from a mining company's tailpond has resulted in a ban on drinking water near Quesnel, B.C. (CARIBOO REGIONAL DISTRICT)
A massive breach in a copper and gold mine's tailings pond near Quesnel, B.C. Monday has flooded the adjacent river with five-million cubic metres of what a senior official called “slurry” — forcing a ban on residents drinking and bathing in the area’s water.
Cariboo Regional District officials said emergency crews are scrambling to assess the damage and find the cause of the spill, which occurred at 3 a.m. from Imperial Metals Ltd.'s Mount Polley Mine.
“Our main concern is the water supply,” Cariboo Regional District chair Al Richmond told 24 hours. “That's what the tailings ponds are for, to contain those types of heavy metals, you never want those types of materials in the water system.”
Federal data on the project show the company significantly increased its on-site storage of toxins such as arsenic, mercury and lead in the past two years.
Environment Canada's data on Imperial Metal's mine tailings show mercury compounds, a neurotoxin that can cause degenerative disease, ramped up from 435 kilograms in 2012 to 3,114 kg last year — a seven-fold increase.
Likewise, levels of the deadly poison arsenic more than quadrupled to 406,122 kg last year.
However, Richmond said debris appears to have mostly stopped what he described as “slurry” from entering a nearby lake, adding that Imperial Metals has operated in the area for many years, and have “been a good corporate citizen,” he said, adding “I'll bet they've been every bit as devastated by this as everyone else.”
Although toxic heavy metals usually settle into sediment at the bottom of ponds, said the Canada programs director with MiningWatch Canada, the description of “slurry” suggests Monday's rupture sucked out toxic sludge along with tailing water.
“You can't release that amount of toxic metals into ecosystems without having long-term repercussions,” Ramsey Hart said. “If they're able to clean some of it up that would be helpful, but they'll never be able to clean it all up — those metals don't go anywhere.”
B.C. environment ministry spokesman Dave Crebo issued a statement that “further monitoring and testing of waterways will be required before the full extent of potential environmental impacts can be determined.”
Attempts to reach Imperial Metals or the mine site were unsuccessful by press time.