What Could Go Wrong

Just last year, a sulfide mine in British Columbia experienced a devastating breach that released millions of gallons of toxic sulfide waste into previously pristine lakes – resulting in a ban on swimming, boating, fishing, and drinking from rivers and lakes throughout the region. Before this disaster, this mine had been promoted as an example of safe mining that did not threaten local bodies of water.

British Columbia’s Global News reported on the aftermath:

A breach of the tailings pond on Mount Polley Mine sent five million cubic metres of toxic waste into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake, with fears it could spread far and wide in the coming days.

Residents in the area, along with visitors to waterways near the Mount Polley Mine close to Likely, B.C., have been issued a complete water ban. Affecting close to 300 homes, it extends to the entire Quesnel and Cariboo River systems up to the Fraser River, including Quesnel Lake, Cariboo Creek, Hazeltine Creek and Polley Lake.

People in Quesnel are also being asked to avoid using water from the Quesnel River, and late in the day the Cariboo Regional District extended the water advisory right to the Fraser River – although they said that was a precautionary measure.

As we’ve noted, the proposed PolyMet Mine’s similarities to Mount Polley raise real concerns.

Mount Polley Mine
British Columbia
PolyMet Mine
Minnesota (proposed)
Mount Polley tailings waste contained toxic heavy metals and other contaminants. PolyMet’s initial description of wastes included toxic levels of arsenic, lead, cobalt, copper and sulfate.
The engineering consulting firm of Knight Piesold designed the tailings basin. Knight Piesold has been involved in reviewing the engineering design for the proposed PolyMet tailings basin.
Tailings basin was rated one of the least likely in B.C. to adversely effect the environment, harm people or destroy roads or structures if it failed. Simulated breach showed contamination of a 10 square mile area and 34 properties, reaching the Embarrass River within a 3-hour period.
Estimated costs of cleanup run from $50 million to $500 million dollars. It is not clear how the cleanup costs will be paid for, or how to protect taxpayers. PolyMet has not provided damage deposit information to the public. No estimates or provisions for addressing catastrophic events are provided.