Tailings pond breach in British Columbia prompts concern

August 6, 2014

Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch told the media that his company accepts full responsibility for the tailings damn failure at its Mount Polley Mine in central British Columbia.

On Aug. 4 a failure at the tailings dam released billions of liters of waste water into local river systems. The breach from the gold and copper mine’s tailings pond has led to concerns of contamination of several rivers, lakes and creeks in the area. Officials evacuated local campgrounds and enacted a number of water use bans.

"I apologize for what happened," Kynoch said at a news conference in Likely, B.C. "If you asked me two weeks ago if this could have happened, I would have said it couldn't," CBC News reported.

When asked why the dam failed, sending an estimated 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand into Polley Lake , Kynoch said, "Until we conduct an investigation, I would just be speculating."

"This is a gut-wrenching experience, I can assure you it is for me," he responded. "I don't know why it happened."

Kynoch said the company needs a few more days to see what the outcome of the breach will be. "The crews have been asked to stay home because we're not operating the mine," he said.

Meanwhile, the B.C. Ministry of Environment said it warned Imperial Metals about the Mount Polley mine tailings pond levels repeatedly before this week's devastating breach.

In an email to CBC News, ministry spokesperson Kim Franklin said the ministry gave the firm its latest of five warnings in May, this time for exceeding the permitted height of waste water within the tailings pond.

The company has applied for two permit amendments in recent years to allow the mine to discharge an increasing amount of wastew ater.
The first of these, in 2009, prompted an independent report. The second, submitted this summer, was under consideration by the ministry at the time of the tailings pond breach.

The ministry said the vast quantity of mining waste materials may have flowed out through Hazeltine Creek and into Quesnel Lake.

The regional district and local health authority issued a precautionary water ban, advising visitors and residents not to drink or bathe in the water of affected areas, and not to allow animals to drink the water, either.
 

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