Environmental disaster for years to come – Massive breach of toxic waste pond at Mount Polley Mine, Canada
A dam at a waste pond on Mount Polley Mine in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, Canada, full of toxic heavy metals burst on August 4, 2014, releasing 10 million cubic meters of wastewater and 5 million cubic meters of toxic slurry into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake. The magnitude of this huge environmental disaster became painfully apparent this week, but the full extent of the damage may remain unknown for years or even decades to come.
Nearby residents have been issued a complete water ban several days after the breach, however, the government mostly lifted it this week believing the spill won’t have a significant impact on people or aquatic life. Environmentalists strongly disagree with this while mining experts warn that the incident is the largest mining disaster in Canadian history, possibly even global.
Local residents and critics of the British Columbia provincial government say officials may be playing down the spill’s negative effects.
As Canada has gone all-in on resource extraction in the last decade or so, with prime minister Stephen Harper promising to turn the country into one of the largest natural resource exporters in the world, governments across the country, including in British Columbia, have developed close ties with extraction industries. (The Guardian)
“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 made its way into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake,” Global News reports.
“Water will continue to run through literally tons of this sediment and grass will grow through the sediment,” said Brian Olding, an environmental consultant who authored a report on the Mount Polley Mine in 2011.
“Imagine if a moose eats that grass, and then an aboriginal person comes and shoots that moose. Then we have a food contamination issue on our hands.” (The Guardian)
Tailings, also called mine dumps, culm dumps, slimes, tails, refuse, leach residue or slickens, are the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the uneconomic fraction (gangue) of an ore. According to Wikipedia, common minerals and elements found in tailings include:
- Radioactive materials – Naturally present in many ores
- Hydrocarbons – Introduced by mining and processing equipment (oils & greases)