The Mount Polley mine disaster occurred on August 4th, 2014 near Likely in the Cariboo region of Central British Columbia.
Below you will find an overview section describing the Mount Polley mine disaster, followed by our latest news and analysis on the subject.
Overview of the Mount Polley Mine Disaster
On August 4th, 2014 a four square kilometre sized tailings pond full of toxic copper and gold mining waste breached, spilling an estimated 25 milion cubic metres of contaminated materials into Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, a source of drinking water and major spawning grounds for sockeye salmon. According to Mount Polley mine records filed with Environment Canada in 2013, there were ”326 tonnes of nickel, over 400 tonnes of arsenic, 177 tonnes of lead and 18,400 tonnes of copper and its compounds placed in the tailings pond,” in 2012.
Following the Mount Polley mine disaster, a local state of emergency was declared for the Cariboo Regional District over drinking water contamination concerns.
Clean up efforts have led to a reconstructed Hazeltine Creek, although the contaminated slurry that made its way into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake remains in the waterways. A drinking water ban was lifted within weeks of the spill and regular water testing is being conducted by the B.C. government, the Mount Polley mine, the University of Northern British Columbia and local residents.
An investigation into the cause of the spill revealed mine engineers failed to account for glacial silt underneath the tailings containment pond, leading to structural insufficiencies that caused the dam's collapse. No charges or fines have been laid in response to the disaster although an investigation into the spill by the province of B.C. is ongoing. Several local landowners and business operators affected by the spill have launched legal challenges to seek compensation for damages.
The Mount Polley mine is an open pit gold and copper mine in operation since 1997 and is owned by Imperial Metals.
Image: Global News
DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on the Mount Polley mine disaster
The B.C. Ministry of Environment has quietly granted the Mount Polley Mining Corporation permission to drain mining waste directly into Quesnel Lake, B.C.’s deepest fjord lake and a source of drinking water for residents of Likely, B.C., as part of a “long-term water management plan.”
The wastewater discharge permit comes nearly three years after the collapse of the Mount Polley mine tailings pond spilled an estimated 25 million cubic metres of mining waste into Quesnel Lake, in what is considered the worst mining disaster in Canadian history.
No charges and no fines have been laid for the spill that cost B.C. taxpayers an estimated $40 million in cleanup costs and that B.C.’s chief mine inspector, Al Hoffman, found was the result of “poor practices” and “non-compliances.”
Some critics feel the new wastewater discharge permit simply grants Mount Polley the permission to continue polluting Quesnel Lake.
Alaskans tired of living under the threat of B.C.’s poorly regulated mines are taking the matter to the state’s House Fisheries Committee in an effort to escalate an international response to ongoing issues such as the slow leakage of acidic waste from the deserted Tulsequah Chief Mine in northwest B.C. into the watershed of one of the richest salmon runs in the B.C./Alaska transboundary region.
On Thursday the committee will assess a resolution sponsored by several House Representatives “urging the United States government to continue to work with the government of Canada to investigate the long-term, region-wide downstream effects of proposed and existing industrial development and to develop measures to ensure that state resources are not harmed by upstream development in B.C.”
Although Tulsequah is a catalyst, concerns go deeper as B.C. is handing out permits for a clutch of proposed new mines close to the Alaskan border, including the KSM mine, the largest open-pit gold and copper mine in North America.
British Columbian taxpayers will be on the hook for $40 million to clean up the worst mining spill in Canadian history and the company responsible has once again escaped criminal charges after a private prosecution was dismissed this week.
In August 2014 the 40-metre-high tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine near Williams Lake collapsed, sending 25-million cubic metres of contaminated sludge and mine waste sweeping into lakes and rivers — but no charges have been laid and no fines have been levied against Imperial Metals, the parent company of Mount Polley Mining Corp.
Since 2005, Mount Polley Mining Corp and Imperial Metals Corp have donated $195,010 to British Columbia’s ruling B.C. Liberal party.
The federal government is seeking to stay a private lawsuit brought against Mount Polley Mining Corporation and the B.C. government in October 2016, nearly 30 months after the collapse of the Mount Polley tailings pond spilled 25-million cubic metres of contaminated mining waste into Quesnel Lake, a source of drinking water for residents of Likely, B.C.
Now the federal government is seeking a withdrawal of the criminal charges before MiningWatch Canada — the organization that first brought the charges, which claim the company and the province violated the federal Fisheries Act — has been given the opportunity to present evidence.
“We were stunned that the federal Crown does not even want us to show the court that there was enough evidence to justify proceeding with a prosecution against both the B.C. government and [the Mount Polley Mining Corporation] for the worst mining spill in Canadian history,” Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch, said.
Almost 30 months after 25-million cubic metres of contaminated sludge and water swept into lakes and creeks around the Mount Polley Mine, near Williams Lake, MiningWatch Canada has filed a private prosecution against the provincial government and Mount Polley Mining Corporation.
MiningWatch, supported by a coalition of environmental, First Nations and social justice organizations from Canada and Alaska, was forced to take action because the Crown has failed to lay charges and enforce the Fisheries Act despite ample evidence, said Ugo Lapointe, MiningWatch national program coordinator.
“We are all concerned that, almost 30 months later, despite clear evidence of impacts on waters, fish and fish habitat, no sanctions and no penalties have been brought forwards by any level of government,” Lapointe said.
Just over a hill, beyond the rolling grasslands that flank Kamloops, there’s a looming problem that could upend the lifestyle of neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city and, after years of debate about whether a massive open-pit mine would be a good neighbour, one city councillor is appealing to the provincial government to suspend the process, claiming it might violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The proposal for a gold and copper mine less than three kilometres from a school and even closer to homes, with a tailings pond and dam sitting above a city of 90,000 people, has divided Kamloops residents and city council since an application for the Ajax mine was made by Polish mining company KGHM Polska Miedz more than six years ago.
Many of those living closest to the planned urban mine worry about the proximity of the tailings pond — a concern exacerbated by the disastrous 2014 Mount Polley tailings pond breach — and believe that, despite promised mitigation measures, toxic dust will be carried by prevailing winds that blow from the direction of the mine over their homes and that slope stability and watersheds could be affected.
The 2016 finalists for the Canadian Online Publishing Awards have been announced and DeSmog Canada has made the cut in two categories — alongside Maclean’s Magazine, the Toronto Star, The Huffington Post, the Winnipeg Free Press and the National Observer.
In the Best Blog category, DeSmog Canada is nominated for its coverage of the indigenous youth suicide epidemic and its relationship to natural resource development.
Also featured in the nomination is DeSmog Canada’s coverage of the Mount Polley mine disaster and the provincial government’s failure to levy any charges or fines against the company responsible and our coverage of Canada’s enormous untapped geothermal energy potential.
In the Best Video Content category, Disturbing the Peace: The Story of the Site C Dam has been selected as a finalist.
Thursday marks two years since the Mount Polley mine disaster in Likely, B.C. where a tailings pond collapse spilled 25 million cubic metres of mining waste, laced with contaminants like arsenic, lead and copper, into the once-pristine Quesnel Lake, a major salmon spawning ground and source of drinking water.
To mark the occasion, B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett issued a press release praising the government’s world-class mining standards, saying the province is now “at the forefront of global standards for the safety of [tailings storage facilities] at mines operating in this province.”
“We’ve taken a leadership position and have done all we can to ensure such a failure can never happen in B.C. again,” Bennett said.
Six B.C. mines pose threats to Alaska’s most productive salmon rivers and should be investigated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, according to a coalition of conservation groups and Alaskan First Nations who are invoking legislation that says it is the Interior Department’s duty to investigate when foreign nationals may be affecting U.S conservation treaties.
A petition presented to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell suggests that B.C. mines close to the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds diminish the effectiveness of two treaties that protect Pacific salmon, steelhead trout, grizzly bears and woodland caribou.
The coalition of U.S. and Canadian groups, including Earthjustice, the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, Sierra Club of B.C., Craig Tribal Association, Friends of the Stikine Society and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, are echoing a previous call by Alaska’s congressional delegation to refer the transboundary mines controversy to the International Joint Commission.
Costs associated with the closure and reclamation of 84 abandoned industrial sites, mostly from mining, in B.C. have increased to $508 million, according to new information released from the Crown Contaminated Sites Program.
Responsibility for the sites has fallen to the province because the owners or operators of the projects “no longer exist,” according to a provincial press release.
According to the province, a number of the mines, like the Britannia Mine near Squamish, or the Bralorne-Takla Mine in northern B.C., that now present a risk to human and enviornmental health, operated before 1969 when modern environmental legislation was created.
Although the province is quick to highlight work done over the past two years to clean up contaminated sites, Ugo Lapointe from MiningWatch says the significant growth in overall liability signals an urgent need for reform in the mining sector.