The Mount Polley E. Coli Mystery

The effluent released from Mount Polley Mine into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake when the dam holding back its tailings pond failed on August 4th contained more than suspended and dissolved metals; it also contained septic sewage waste.

It was revealed shortly after the breach that Mount Polley Mine had been disposing of sewage waste from its on-site septic system into its tailings storage facility, in accordance with a permit from the Ministry of the Environment. Furthermore, Mount Polley was also receiving shipments of biosolids, or sewage sludge, from Metro Vancouver for use in land reclamation.

But while Imperial Metals maintains that none of these biosolids were ever stored in their tailings facility and that conditions in the pond were sufficient to effectively kill the bacteria, water samples taken by the MOE from the mouth of Hazeltine Creek show elevated levels of E. Coli bacteria in Quesnel Lake; something new for this glacial lake that fishermen once dipped their cups in to quench their thirst.

The drinking water ban for Quesnel Lake was lifted with much fanfare just weeks after the disaster, with the BC government eager to allay concerns from local residents that their main source of drinking water had been contaminated. Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch famously boasted that he was so confident that the water in Mount Polley's tailings pond was near drinking water quality that he would drink it himself. He never did, of course.

Concerns from locals over the recent spike in E. Coli levels have largely been dismissed, with MOE simply stating that levels of E. Coli above safe consumption thresholds are typical for BC lakes and reiterating that any drinking water being drawn from a surface source should be clarified and disinfected before consumption. All of which ignores the fact that such steps were not necessary at all prior to the breach at Mount Polley because E. Coli in Quesnel Lake was never a problem before.

These are just some of the questions left unanswered in the wake of the largest mining disaster in modern Canadian history. The BC government has announced three independent investigations in response to this disaster with findings due to be released early in the new year. For now, concerned locals are left to wait and wonder.

Add your voice to our call for improved environmental oversight and transparency by telling Minister Bennett and the BC government that Three Years is Too Long for Justice. Get information about local beach closures due to E. Coli contamination be downloading our free Swim Guide app.

You can also support us by becoming a donor. A monthly contribution of $50, $25, or even just $10 a month will go a long way in helping us to protect your right to swim, drink, and fish in BC's waters.

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