Imperial boosts Mount Polley spill estimate by 10 million cubic metres

Silty mud remaining in Hazeltine Creek after Mount Polley tailings dam breach (Carol Linnitt/

In a Labour Day update on the Mount Polley mine disaster, owner Imperial Metals boosted its estimates of tailings, water and debris released into the environment by the failure of its tailings dam on August 4.

Compared with earlier estimates of 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of solid tailings, the company is now figuring the following:

  • Supernatant water 10.6Mm
  • Tailings Slurry: tailings solids 7.3Mm3; interstitial water 6.5Mm3
  • Construction materials 0.6Mm3

Combining supernatant (water lying above the tailings within the “pond”) and interstitial (water trapped within the tailings), an extra 7.1 million litres of water poured forth from the burst dam than originally estimated. At 7.3 million cubic metres of solid tailings, the new estimate is nearly 3 million higher than the original 4.5 million – also making it the largest tailings pond disaster of its kind in history.

Added to that are 600,000 cubic metres of construction materials.

Imperial Metals was also not carrying any proper environmental disaster insurance, though it maintains in this latest update that it will be able to clean up the spill:

[quote]…we believe the costs can be managed over time given the underlying value of Imperial’s assets, the commitments for the additional $100 million financing announced on August 14 and insurance proceeds. [/quote]

Water quality concerns renewed

The revelation comes as fresh concerns surface regarding water quality, human and animal health in the region.

Last weekend, Interior Helath issued a new advisory warning residents of Likely, BC that – despite the lifting of an earlier water use ban – increased turbidity in the water column warranted caution in terms of drinking water from Quesnel Lake.

At the same time, independent biologist Alexandra Morton made waves reporting on a mysterious blue film covering much of Quesnel Lake and the Quesnel River.

The Ministry of Environment was allegedly aware of the situation and taking samples but has yet to report back to the public regarding the issue.

Finally, recently released data from the ministry’s water tests on August 13 reveal a major a spike in total copper levels from its “deep” station at the mouth of Hazeltine Creek –  “two orders of magnitude higher than on August 8th,” according to biologist John Werring of the David Suzuki Foundation. Topping out at 325 ug/l, says Werring, they vastly exceed aquatic life guidelines of just 4 ug/l.

CEO Kynoch: Thanks for understanding

Imperial Metals CEO Brian Kynoch included a personal message in his company’s update. “We thank all our employees and stakeholders who very quickly responded to offer help following the August 4 breach at our Mount Polley mine,” Kynoch says.

[quote]We also appreciate the offers of support from our colleagues in the mining industry and residents of BC and beyond, who understand the complexity of responding, planning and working toward mitigating the effects of this event.[/quote]


About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

15 thoughts on “Imperial boosts Mount Polley spill estimate by 10 million cubic metres

  1. Damien Gillis, thank you for the .pdf of satellite images.

    Wish this much attention was given to Albertas’ Obed mine spill and poisoning of the Athabasca River at its source. Four days went by before a public statement was made and in that time the villages and towns along the river, including Whitecourt and Athabasca, were poisoned.

    In China they execute or at least imprison those people responsible for high profile disasters which have caught the public eye. Yes, China is an on-going environmental disaster but to keep the population placated they put on a show of government ‘concern’ when pressured. Given the current Canadian government sanctioned abuse of our own environment and the environments around our international mining and resource operations, public prosecution of those responsible for Mt. Polley, Obed or any other environmental disaster will be as much a show trial as those held in China.

    Nobody can ‘clean up’ the effects of these spills or reverse the genetic damage inflicted on all life down stream, no matter how many absorbant pads and uplifting news stories you use. Only a new direction from a new Prime Minister with fundamentally different views than what is currently in office can make a difference, both here and abroad…Let me know if you see anyone suitable for the job because the current contenders appear to share the PC’s fundamental love of money over people, nature and even common sense.

  2. This will undoubtedly be largest and most toxic spill into pristine watersheds in B.C.’s history. The amount of copper released will slowly leachate into the system for many years. The “Mt. Washington Copper mine” in Courtenay, left it’s scar on the environment for 30 years and it’s still not over. The company packed their bags and left the taxpayers to pick up the tab. All salmon and trout in the Tsolum River were decimated and through the efforts of many we were able to get salmon to return to the system. I’m sure Imperial Metals will drag this remediation out as long as possible and study, study it to death before they do the minimum effort possible to mitigate their ineptitude.

  3. “we believe the costs can be managed over time….”… yeah? How much time? A dollar now and another when you catch me? Freeze their bank accounts and stop ALL mining activity at ALL Imperial Metals facilities in the province. If we had any hope of moral behaviour from our federales I’d say stop all mining activity at all Imperial Metals facilities in the country but Harpy and his gang won’t even consider standing up for the citizens, they’re too busy kissing the backsides of the corporations.
    Of all the laws we have in this country, up to and including laws about where you are allowed to spit, there is no law requiring citizens , companies, or corporations to tell the truth. Lies are lawful. Oh, sorry, I think they’re now calling them “misspeaks”.
    This is more than a mess, this is a tragedy which will impact the lakes, streams, rivers and environment for years yet to come. Ron was right when he called it a debacle.
    It might not break our hearts but it’s going to leave bruises for a long time.

  4. Oh for God’s sake …

    Calm the f**k down. Investigate thoroughly, if there was wrong doing or intent to mislead, then formulate conclusion and take action. Until then, do what you’d expect done if it was you. Assume innocence, and don’t rush to Judgement. After all there are regulatory bodies involved as well.

    “Seize their assets, take their passports, send them to gaol”! Accomplishes nothing, except make the accusers appear foolish.

    1. Hi Brad, unfortunately, Imperial has a growing credibility gap – which makes it difficult for anyone to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  5. Anyone using simple math skills given the size and height of the tailings enclosure will soon realize that even these newly provided numbers fall short by thousands of percent of what was there. This is nothing but a strategy on their part to gain trust while lying through their teeth.

      1. Note that based on Globe and Mail’s statement (“The tailings dam was about 35 metres high when it was breached”) times BCTWA’s figure of 225 hectares of surface area – that means the volume of water and tailings combined was roughly:

        78,750,000 cubic metres!

        Even if not all of it spilled out, that’s still considerably greater than the 25 million figure they finally copped to today – up from 15 initially…

        Are we in store for more big surprises with this company?!

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