August 2014 – CANADA – The scale of the spill at the Mount Polley Mine is becoming clearer tonight. Reporter John Daly has more on how authorities are responding to the tailings breach. Local residents are calling it an environmental disaster. A breach of the tailings pond on Mount Polley Mine sent five million cubic meters of toxic waste into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake, with fears it could spread far and wide in the coming days. 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. There are already concerns that the total damage will be immense. The sheer volume of toxic slurry from the pond – equivalent to 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools – caused Hazeltine Creek to expand from four feet in width to 150, and some of the sludge has already made its way into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake.
Phil Owens, a professor at the University of Northern British Columbia and researcher with the Quesnel River Research Centre, says it’s impossible to know at this stage where the tailings will stop. Rob Hood, president of the Likely Chamber of Commerce, told Global News that the Cedar Point Provincial Park campground has also been evacuated. There are concerns around the debris and chemicals from the tailing ponds coming down into Quesnel Lake, Hood says, where approximately 300 people get their drinking water. Others fear the billions of litres of contaminated water could pollute other water ways in the area. The alert will remain in place until test results are completed. Likely resident, Larry Chambers says he was woken at 3 a.m. and could hear the sounds of rushing water. “I could hear the roar like a 747 jet,” he told Global News. Chambers describes Polley Lake as “milky green” and says the flood is bringing in a ton of debris. Residents described a stench in the air and dead fish washing up. 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. A spokesperson from the Ministry of Environment told Global News that, “further monitoring and testing of waterways will be required before the full extent of potential environmental impacts can be determined. Steps are being taken to put those processes in place.” –Global News