At 3 AM, Larry Chambers woke to the sound of rushing water. “I could hear the roar like a 747 jet,” he told Global News.
On the night of August 4, the tailings pond of the Mount Polley Mine was breached, spilling a volume of toxic waste equivalent to 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake. The Cariboo Regional District reports that a water ban has been issued to residents of these areas as well as those living near the Quesnel and Cariboo river systems.
The Mount Polley Mine is a copper and gold mine located near the town of Likely in Canada’s British Columbia. It is operated by Imperial Metals, a mine development and operating company based in Vancouver. As of this writing, the company maintains that the cause of the pond breach is unknown but that senior company management is working with mine operating personnel, local agencies and ministry officials to assess the extent of the breach and its impact on the area.
This morning, Imperial Metals reported that the breach has been stabilized.
The mine’s tailings pond is a dumping site for the waste material left over from the extraction of metals. It includes such toxic chemicals as arsenic, mercury, sulfur, lead and cyanide.
Phil Owens, a professor at the University of Northern British Columbia and researcher with the Quesnel River Research Centre, says it is impossible to predict how far the toxic slurry will journey through the river system. “Once something starts, it will just cascade down through the chain,” he said. “We don’t know when it will stop, and we don’t know when it will move through the system.”
Residents say the milky green sludge is carrying tons of debris down the rivers and describe an overwhelming stench of dead fish.
Shares of Imperial Metals plunged 44 percent on the TSX after news of the tailings pond breach.