Canadian District Declares Emergency as Mine Spill Fouls Waters

Aug 06, 2014 1:23 pm ET

Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) -- A mine-waste spill that dumped billions of gallons of wastewater into creeks and lakes this week has led a local government in British Columbia to declare a state of emergency.

The Cariboo Regional District said the move will open the door to resources needed to protect private property and government infrastructure in the nearby town of Likely, about 400 kilometers (248 miles) northeast of Vancouver, according to a notice posted today on its emergency operations center Facebook page. It didn’t provide further details.

An estimated 10 million cubic meters (2.64 billion gallons) of water and 4.5 million cubic meters of fine sand were released after an Aug. 4 breach of the waste-storage pond at the open-pit Mount Polley copper and gold mine, owned by Vancouver-based Imperial Metals Corp. The district is warning people not to drink or use water from local lakes and river systems while samples collected by the provincial Ministry of Environment are tested.

Imperial, which yesterday had its biggest one-day plunge in Toronto trading, said in a statement it didn’t know what had caused the breach. Officials from the Ministry of Energy and Mines were at the site probing the cause of the failure, the Canadian Press said, citing Minister Bill Bennett.

Water from the storage pond was “very close to drinking water quality,” Imperial President Brian Kynoch told Likely residents at a meeting yesterday, according to the Canadian Press. He added that silt -- the “ground-up rock” left over after extracting the metals -- poses a problem.

Sockeye Salmon

The water-use ban affects about 200 to 300 people in a sparsely populated rural area, Cariboo Regional District Chairman Al Richmond said yesterday. The ministry has promised to expedite the sampling results, he said.

Imperial disposed of materials including lead, arsenic and mercury at Mount Polley, according to preliminary data on Environment Canada’s website. The company said yesterday the tailings -- the materials left over after processing ore to extract valuable metals -- were alkaline with an average ph of 8.5 and not acid generating.

Potential impacts from the spill on migrating sockeye salmon were still unknown, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said in a statement posted on Twitter yesterday.

The department “will be closely monitoring the salmon run as it approaches the Quesnel system over the coming days,” it said. Fishing has been closed in certain parts of the Cariboo and Quesnel rivers.

The tailings pond operated within design limits, Imperial said. Monitoring instruments and workers at the site had no indication of an impending breach.

“It’s our responsibility to put this right and we will work diligently to do so,” Kynoch said at a news conference broadcast on the BC 1 television. “Our first priority was, and continues to be, the health and safety of our employees and our neighbors.”