Before and after photos show devastation of Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach

VANCOUVER – A look at some before and after photos of the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond shows some of the devastation of what has happened in the region.

A breach of the tailings pond early Monday morning sent five million cubic metres of toxic waste into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake.

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Residents and visitors to the area, 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.

Several employees of the mine, who wished to remain anonymous to protect their jobs, have told Global News the same tailings pond had a minor breach three months ago.

But president of Imperial Metals, Brian Kynoch, says the dam has never failed before.

Common minerals and elements found in tailings, which is the waste material left over from the extraction of metals, can include arsenic, mercury, sulfur and cyanide.

“We have never detected mercury in the tailings pond at Mount Polley,” says Kynoch. “There’s no mercury there.”

“Another one I’ve heard talked about is arsenic. Arsenic levels are one-fifth of drinking water.”

He adds that the company regularly performs toxicity tests on the water in their tailings facility and it is not toxic to rainbow trout, which spawn there.

He says that once the solids are removed from the water he would drink it.

Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett issued a statement saying in part:

“This is a serious incident that should not have happened. We are devoting every appropriate resource working with local officials to clean up the site, mitigate any impacts to communities and the environment, and investigate the cause of the breach. We will determine the cause of the event and we are determined to prevent an incident like this from happening again.”

GALLERY: Before and after photos of the area:

A photo of the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond, taken in 2013.

Submitted

A photo of the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond, taken in 2013.

Before and after, credit Elaine Lucas.

Elaine Lucas

Damage from a tailings pond breach is seen near Likely, B.C., Tuesday, August 5, 2014. A tailings pond that breached Monday, releasing a slurry of contaminated water and mine waste into several central British Columbia waterways, had been growing at an unsustainable rate, an environmental consultant says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Damage from a tailings pond breach is seen near Likely, B.C., Tuesday, August 5, 2014. A tailings pond that breached Monday, releasing a slurry of contaminated water and mine waste into several central British Columbia waterways, had been growing at an unsustainable rate, an environmental consultant says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A aerial view shows the damage caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Tailings bond breach at Mount Polley Mine near Likely, BC.

Where the tailings came down, credit Larry Chambers.

Larry Chambers

Post-breach, credit Larry Chambers.

Larry Chambers

Aerial photo of the breach site, Global News.

Global News

Aerial photo of the lake and breach, Global News.

Global News