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Fisheries biologist concerned about impact of leaving mine tailings sludge in Hazeltine Creek

Fisheries biologist Paddy Smith has been working in the Mount Polley Mine region for 15 years. - Sage Birchwater photo
Fisheries biologist Paddy Smith has been working in the Mount Polley Mine region for 15 years.
— image credit: Sage Birchwater photo

It has been three weeks since the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond spill and at least one fisheries biologist working in the region is concerned about the long-term impact of leaving the tailings sludge in Hazeltine Creek.

Paddy Smith explains that when rock containing heavy metals and toxic chemicals gets ground up into talcum powder then dumped into the environment, bad things happen.

Smith, who has worked in the Mount Polley area for 15 years, is worried about the long-term effect of bad chemicals getting cycled in the biosystems.

He says the toxicity entering the environment increases exponentially as the fine particles of poisons and heavy metals are brought face to face with the natural systems.

It is the same process as with pesticides, he says. The toxins get more and more concentrated as they go further up the food chain.

Contaminated microbes get ingested by insects that get eaten by fish which are consumed by eagles, osprey, waterfowl and furbearers.

Smith insists that a proper cleanup of Hazeltine Creek is paramount.

“There’s millions of tons of stuff on either side of Hazeltine that could be trucked back into the tailings facility. There’s 12 years of mining sludge available to the biology now because it’s ground up so fine.”

He said there is only a narrow window of opportunity to remove the debris along Hazeltine Creek before the snow and rains come, and the cleanup has to be done right.

“You still can’t eat the fish in Jack of Clubs Lake in Wells because of the build up of heavy metals like mercury from the mine tailings residue,” Smith said.

He said one reason for inaction in cleaning up Hazeltine Creek is fear of a second breach down Hazeltine Creek from Polley Lake which is a metre-and-a-half higher than normal after the tailings dam breach plugged the outflow and poured millons of litres of effluent into the lake.

This is a real concern.

Water is being pumped out of the lake slowly but not as quickly as Smith figures it could be.

“They could bring power in from the mine and use bigger pumps to take Polley Lake down faster.”

Moorhead Lake resident Jim Gibson agrees with Smith that the effort to lower Polley Lake so that Hazeltine Creek can be cleaned up is taking too long.

“At the rate they are going it will be November by the time they can get in there,” Gibson says. “And you know what happens in November? ... Snow.”

Some people living in the Likely area are also suggesting that because the spill has been declared a disaster, the Canadian army should be brought in to help clean up the tailings sludge in Hazeltine Creek.

 

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