Share story

LIKELY, B.C. — A dam holding back the tailings pond at a metals mine in central British Columbia burst Monday, releasing about 353 million cubic feet of water and about 158 million cubic feet of what was feared to be toxic silt into adjacent lakes, rivers and creeks.

The pond at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley Mine, about 370 miles northeast of Vancouver, sent enough water to fill about 4,000 Olympic-size swimming pools into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.

A summary of material dumped into the tailings pond, filed last year with Environment Canada, listed nickel, arsenic, lead and copper and its compounds. The open-pit mine is a source of gold, silver and copper.

On Thursday the water in Quesnel Lake and the Quesnel River was tested and found to meet drinking-water standards, but Likely-area residents learned Thursday of a new contamination danger.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

The mine effluent that poured out of the tailings pond carried with it sand that has blocked a creek emptying Polley Lake.

So, a water-use ban imposed Monday after the dam breach remains in place, Interior Health chief medical officer Trevor Corneil told more than 200 people at a community meeting Thursday beside the Quesnel River in Likely.

Corneil said the first water test results were “very reassuring” but that until further testing can be done, it is prudent to keep the ban in place.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark called the test results “promising,” but noted it was one day of sampling.

“We are profoundly concerned about what happened,” said Clark, who was in Likely to meet residents.

“This is one of the clearest and most pristine lakes anywhere in the world — ask anyone who grew up here. You can dive into the lake and take a big gulp of water. And we want to find a way to get it back to its previous pristine state,” she said.

After a flyover of the site, Clark called what she had seen “massive” and “astounding.”

The first test results include only three sample locations, but sampling will continue in more spots along Quesnel Lake, and also for solids deposited by the dam break.

Material from The Associated Press was added to this report.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.