British Columbia’s Interior Health Authority has deemed water from Quesnel Lake and the Quesnel River safe to drink, after a tailings storage facility breach at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine sent a slurry-like mixture of 10-million cubic metres of water and 4.5-million cubic metres of fine heavy metals contaminated sediment into nearby waterways. The announcement came Aug. 14 at a community meeting in Likely, B.C.

Quesnel River at Likely, B.C.. Credit: Province of British Columbia.
Quesnel River at Likely, B.C. Credit: Province of British Columbia.

“The results of environmental testing are showing results far better than were initially thought,” said Kerry Cook, mayor of nearby Williams Lake. “Imperial Metals has started the process of not only cleanup and rebuilding of the dam, but the rebuilding of confidence in the company and the Mount Polley mine.”

Water sampling and other environmental monitoring efforts are ongoing in the area, and Imperial Metals is engaged in pumping operations at Polley Lake.

The Interior Health Authority has also approved fish consumption for a large portion of the affected region, with the notable exceptions of Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek, and a small portion of Quesnel Lake.

“I have consulted with numerous experts in this field,” said Trevor Corneil, Interior Health’s medical health officer, in an Aug. 12 release. “I am reassured that the current fish living in these waterways and those that may travel through it via the Fraser River or spawn in it are safe to consume.”

Meanwhile, with a cause for the breach still undetermined, the provincial government is calling for an independent investigation into the incident.

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