Water from breached tailings pond near Likely B.C. almost drinkable: Imperial Metals president

WATCH: Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch answers questions about the toxicity of the water

VANCOUVER – The president of Imperial Metals says samples from Quesnel Lake following a tailings pond breach from Mount Polley Mine “already almost meets drinking water standards.”

At a news conference on Tuesday, Brian Kynoch says the Ministry of Environment continues to collect samples from Quesnel Lake.

He says while water quality is a key issue, the water in the tailings facility is not toxic.

“The suspended solids are a problem because it’s not water anymore,” says Kynoch. “It’s a slurry now. But the water itself is relatively benign.”

He says they need to confirm the water quality, but says once the solids fall out, the water should be good.

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“Yes I would drink the water,” he says. “I would drink the water once the solids come out.”

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 — spilled into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake when the tailings pond failed early Monday morning. The waste water has caused Hazeltine Creek to expand from just over one metre to nearly 46 metres.

“Polley Lake rose about 1.5 metres above its normal height and steps are being taken to pump some of that water into the springer pit so we can start dropping that water level back to normal,” says Kynoch.

WATCH: Mount Polley mine disaster causes water ban

Several employees of the mine, who wished to remain anonymous to protect their jobs, have told Global News the same tailings pond had a minor breach three months ago.

But Kynoch says the dam has never failed before.

Common minerals and elements found in tailings, which is the waste material left over from the extraction of metals, can include arsenic, mercury, sulfur and cyanide.

“We have never detected mercury in the tailings pond at Mount Polley,” says Kynoch. “There’s no mercury there.”

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“Another one I’ve heard talked about is arsenic. Arsenic levels are one-fifth of drinking water.”

He adds that the company regularly performs toxicity tests on the water in their tailings facility and it is not toxic to rainbow trout, which spawn there.

READ MORE: Tailings pond breach has local eco-tour operators concerned

An Environment Canada filing from Mount Polley Mine lists all the substances disposed of in the tailings pond – including manganese, cadmium, phosphorous and mercury.

But it is not known how mobile those substances are.

Substances listed as disposed “on-site” in Imperial Metals’ 2013 Mount Polley Mine report (Note: It’s unclear how mobile these solids were, how much was in water, if any, and how much spilled as solids, if any)

  • Phosphorus – 41,640 tonnes
  • Manganese – 20,988 tonnes
  • Copper – 18,413 tonnes
  • Vanadium – 5,047 tonnes
  • Zinc – 2,169 tonnes
  • Cobalt – 475 tonnes
  • Nickel – 326 tonnes
  • Antimony – 14 tonnes
  • Arsenic – 406,122 kg
  • Lead – 177,041 kg
  • Selenium – 46,136 kg
  • Cadmium – 6,487 kg
  • Mercury – 3,114 kg

Kynoch says “Imperial accepts that it is our responsibility to put this right.”

“Our first priority was, and continues to be, the health and safety of our employees and our neighbours. So we have to work hard to make sure we don’t hurt anyone,” he adds.

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“If you had asked me two weeks ago if that could happen, I would say it couldn’t happen.”

Since the news of the tailings pond breach, the shares of Imperial Metals Corporation have dropped 42 per cent.

WATCH: Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch makes a statement after Monday’s tailings pond breach at Mount Polley Mine

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