*UPDATE (Aug.8): The first round of water tests have not found unsafe levels of contamination. Stay tuned.
Local governments in the area of British Columbia’s Mount Polley mine are declaring a state of emergency, following a tailings pond breach on August 4, 2014 that leaked some 10 million cubic meters of contaminated water into other bodies of water.
A dam collapse led to the breach of the four-kilometre wide tailings pond. Now, the major concerns with the spilled water are potential concentrations of selenium, arsenic and mercury within 4.5 million cubic metres of fine sand from the pond, although the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) government has not yet received lab results from the water tests.
According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the tailings pond flowed into nearby Polley Lake. Hazeltine Creek flows out of Polley Lake, and the flow of contaminated water continued into Quesnel Lake.
“The CRD is working with the RCMP, Emergency Management BC, Central Cariboo Search and Rescue, Mount Polley, Interior Health and other associated agencies to determine the extent and possible impacts of the breach,” the CRD announced in a statement Monday.
An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the dam collapse.
In the meantime, the Canadian Red Cross is donating 18,000, 500 ml bottles of water and 1,440, four-litre bottles of water. These bottles will be distributed to residents in Likely, B.C.
“This is a serious incident that should not have happened,” said Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines, in a statement. “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. We will determine the cause of the event and we are determined to prevent an incident like this from happening again.
Mount Polley is an open-pit copper and gold mine operated by Imperial Metals, which released the following statement after the breach:
“Our first priority is the health and safety of our employees and neighbours, and we are relieved no loss of life or injury have been reported. We are deeply concerned and are working to mitigate immediate effects and understand the cause. Exact quantities of water and tailings discharged have yet to be determined. The tailings are alkaline with an average ph of 8.5 and are not acid generating.”
Click here to view the Pollution Abatement Order issued to the mine on behalf of the province.