The mining company at the centre of a potential environmental disaster in the Cariboo region released a statement this morning saying the tailings pond breach has “stabilized”.
The exact quantities of water and tailings spilled have not yet been determined and according to Imperial Metals Corporation statement they are working to mitigate the immediate impact of the Mount Polley Mine tailings breach.
There are already concerns that the total damage will be immense. An estimated 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of toxic waste — equivalent to 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools — has spilled into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake. The waste water has caused Hazeltine Creek to expand from just over one metre to nearly 46 metres.
A state of emergency has not been declared yet but health and emergency services are making an assessment.
Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett acknowledged in a statement today that “this is a serious incident that should not have happened.”
“We are devoting every appropriate resource working with local officials to clean up the site, mitigate any impacts to communities and the environment, and investigate the cause of the breach,” Bennett said.
“We will determine the cause of the event and we are determined to prevent an incident like this from happening again.”
The ministry is currently on-site conducting water tests to determine the full extent of the environmental impact. Water sampling began on August 4 and the ministry is expecting results later this week.
“This spill is incredibly toxic,” Mark Angelo, Rivers Day Founder says. “You’re talking a slurry like this that’s released from those tailings pond, you’re talking about a lot of heavy metals — maybe other toxic materials like arsenic that’s going to find its way into an assortment of creeks, rivers and perhaps ultimately the Fraser.”
Residents in the area, along with visitors to waterways near the Mount Polley Mine close to Likely, B.C., have been issued a complete water ban. Affecting close to 300 homes, it extends to the entire Quesnel and Cariboo River systems up to the Fraser River, including Quesnel Lake, Cariboo Creek, Hazeltine Creek and Polley Lake.
People in Quesnel are also being asked to avoid using water from the Quesnel River, and late in the day the Cariboo Regional District extended the water advisory right to the Fraser River – although they said that was a precautionary measure.
Imperial Metals said the cause of the breach is currently unknown and the dam is “an independently engineered structure that operated within design limits and specifications.” The statement goes on to say personnel had no indication of an impending breach and while the damage of the area is “relatively small” compared to the overall size of the damn, it’s not known at this time how long it will take to restore operations.
However that contradicts what several employees of the mine, who wished to remain anonymous to protect their jobs, told Global News. They said the same tailings pond had a minor breach three months ago.
Since the news of the tailings pond breach, the shares of Imperial Metals Corporation have dropped 39 per cent.