British Columbia Declares A Local State Of Emergency After Massive Mine Waste Spill

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A massive mining waste spill caused by a breach in a tailings pond has prompted a local state of emergency in part of British Columbia.

The Cariboo Regional District announced the emergency declaration on its Facebook page Wednesday, saying it was doing so in order to “access additional capacity that may be necessary to further protect the private property and government infrastructure in the town of Likely.” Likely is the name of one of the small B.C. towns placed under a water ban after about 2.6 billion gallons of water and about 1.18 billion gallons of “metals-laden fine sand” spilled from a tailings pond into nearby creeks, rivers and lakes.
The spill happened following years of warnings to Imperial Metals about Mount Polley’s tailings pond from the British Columbia Ministry of Environment and an environmental consulting group. Environment Canada has opened an investigation into the spill, trying to figure out what caused the tailings pond to breach in the first place. A clean-up plan and report on the spill, which must include a section on long-term impacts to the local environment, is due from the company by Aug. 15, and the company must also submit a plan for how to stop tailings from spilling out of the pond by August 13.
“This spill is unacceptable. Canadians expect companies to operate in a responsible manner that protects the environment,” Ted Laking, the Director of Communication for Canada’s Minister of the Environment, said in a statement.

Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch said this week that, despite the fact that the spill prompted water bans in B.C., the water that came from the tailings pond was “very close to drinking water quality.” Though it’s not yet certain what exactly was in the tailings pond (the first water tests are expected Thursday), which held the waste of the mining operation, the CBC noted that in 2013, Mount Polley mine disposed of arsenic, lead, nickel, selenium, mercury, and other compounds on-site.
Megan Thompson, an aquatic ecologist and limnologist at a Canadian environmental consulting firm, told ThinkProrgress in an email that, based on her ongoing study of a breach in a tailings pond at the Obed coal mine in Alberta that occurred last year, the mining company president may not be too far off in his assessment — the water may be fairly clean, but the solids in the tailings pond likely aren’t.

“One thing I learned from the Obed spill was that the water held in the tailings pond above the tailings sediments appeared relatively clean,” she said. “At Obed, the solids appeared to be the more contaminated component of the spill, and from what I hear in the news, this may also have been the case at the Mount Polley Mine.”

Thompson said there are “many things in the tailings that could impact lakes and rivers, especially if those substances did not naturally occur in the aquatic systems prior to the spill.”
“Even a change in pH can have serious impacts, if it’s big enough,” she said.

Tailings from copper and gold mines differ from those of tar sands mines because they typically don’t contain harmful substances like PAHs and naphthentic acids, Thompson said. But if they contain something like mercury, which tends to stick around in an ecosystem for a long time and doesn’t decrease in toxicity like naphthentic acids do, the impacts could be long-lasting. Recovery of the stream bed and banks could take as little as 10 years, she said, but any long-lived toxins present in the tailings could cause the recovery of the stream itself to take longer. The sheer force of the spill, which downed trees in its path, could have killed fish, and the solid material in the tailings that reached Quesnel Lake will settle to the bottom, burying the organisms in the benthic zone.
Residents of Likely, B.C., which was put under a water ban, are worried about the long-term impact of the spill: to the region’s waterways, to the salmon, and to their economy, which does rely on its fishing and outdoors industry.

“People are not happy,” Scott Saunderson, an Edmonton resident who regularly camps in the region, told the Vancouver Sun. “They never should have built that mine here in the first place.”

About Mike Neuman

Identical twin; Long-time advocate of protection of our environment; Married; Father to three sons; Grandfather to one granddaughter; Born and raised in Wisconsin; Graduate of University of Wisconsin; post graduate degrees in agricultural economics and Water Resources Management fro UWMadison; Former School Crossing Guard for City of Madison; Bike to Work for 31 years with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Retired from DNR in 2007; Biked to school crossing guard site 2 X daily for 7 years retiring in 2019; in addition to being an advocate of safeguarding our environment, I am also an advocate for humane treatment of animal, children, and people in need of financial resource for humane living. I am presently a Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, Madison, Wisconsin. I oppose all long (>500 miles) distance travel (via fossil fuel burning) for nonessential purposes and all ownership of more than one home. I am opposed to militarism in any form particularly for the purpose of monetary gain. I am a Strong believer in people everywhere having the right to speak their minds openly, without any fear of reprisal, regarding any concerns; especially against those in authority who are not acting for the public good?in a timely fashion and in all countries of the world not just the U S.. My identical twin, Pat, died in June 2009. He was fired from his job with the National Weather Service despite having a long and successful career as a flood forecaster with the Kansas City National Weather Service. He took a new position in the Midwest Regional Office in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, Pat’s work for the NWS went sour after he began to see the evidence for concern about rising global temperatures shortly after relocating to Minneapolis, and how they appeared to effect of flooding on the Red River that flows out of Canada before entering the U.S. in North Dakota. . Pat and I conversed on a regular basis with other scientists on the Yahoo Group named “Climate Concern “ and by personal email. The NWS denied his recommendation to give his public presentation o n his research at the “Minneapolis Mall of America” in February 2000, which deeply affected h,im. I will h He strongly believed the information ought be shared with the public to which I concurred. That was the beginning of the vendetta against my brother, Patrick J. Neuman, for speaking strongly of the obligations the federal government was responsible for accurately informing the citizenry. A way great similar response to my raising the issue of too many greenhouse gases being emitted by drivers of vehicles on Wisconsin highway system, my immediate supervisors directed: “that neither global warming, climate change nor the long term impacts upon the natural resources of Wisconsin from expansion of the state highway system were to be any part of my job requirements, and that I must not communicate, nor in a memorandum to all the bureau, shall any person who works in the same bureau I do communicate with me, neither verbally on the phone, by email.

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