Toxic seepage leads to state of emergency in Central Kootenay Regional District

Toxic seepage from a tailings pond in the Central Kootenays has forced a local state of emergency in the area.

The pond is located east of Highway 3 and 6, and south of Emerald Road, near Salmo driving south towards the Kootenay Pass summit.

Heavy rainfall and high creeks have raised the water level in the region and now crews are on scene working to lower the water and shore up the pond.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) Emergency Operations Centre said in a release that they are working with various agencies to ensure public safety for travelers and area residents.
The tailings pond, which is an area of refused mining tailings from an old zinc and lead mine, was impacted due to the water, and some sloughing of the earthen dam was seen on Tuesday.

The RDCK also said there is “ongoing seepage from sections of it.”

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Residents who could be affected by a structural failure impacting the highway and properties below the site have been notified by the RCMP, said the RDCK in a release, and flaggers are currently positioned on the highway as a precautionary measure.

According to the RDCK, geotechnical engineers have installed three pumps to decrease the level in the tailings pond as a first step. Additional larger-diameter pumps and siphoning hoses are en route to continue to reduce water levels. An outlet channel is also being deepened. Several excavators are on site and will work at in-filling areas of seepage when they are able to be deployed safely.

Environmental monitoring and reporting is ongoing and 24 hour security has been implemented at the site.

With favourable weather in the forecast, engineers on site have indicated to the RDCK that the area is gradually getting drier.

The Regional District purchased the former HB Mine property as part of its central landfill area in 1998.