Thoughts on the Mount Polley Tailing Mines Disaster – What it means to us


The ongoing nightmare on Quesnel Lake from the Mount Polley Tailing “Pond”, has huge ramifications for us in Washington State and the Olympic Peninsula. This fiasco is being whitewashed by the politicians from both the Provincial and the Federal level in Canada. The official line is ‘it’s not that bad” when the truth is it’s likely far worse than anyone imagines. Huge amounts of highly toxic materials, including the possibility of radioactive material (that is now being discussed in official circles), pose grave downstream risks to the Salish Sea  and the wildlife that passes through it on their way elsewhere.

The primary talked about toxin in this stew is mercury. Lots of it. It’s used in this kind of mining and ends up being a by-product that can’t be removed,  just managed. We already deal with mercury in our fish, to a manageable degree, and it’s affects are well known and avoided. However, without knowing how much mercury might be in the tailings that are now in the Lake, the government has been suggesting that there is nothing to fear from the water. Let’s be clear, mercury ingested in significant amounts can cause Minamata’s Disease. Look it up on Wikipedia. It was highlighted in a Pulitzer Prize winning article in Life Magazine in the 1970s, photographed by Eugene Smith, when an entire village in Minamata Japan suffered from horrible birth defects because of unregulated mercury poisoning. The Canadian Government is putting it’s people at serious risk by inaction. And us too. 

To quote part of the Wikipedia article:

Symptoms (of mercury poisoning and Minamata Disease) includeataxianumbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision, and damage tohearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanityparalysiscoma, and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect foetuses in the womb.

All these were experienced in Japan in the 70s in Minamata. 

And this is just one of the toxins that was contained behind this tailing dam. 

Without immediate work to setup coffer dams and drain the areas around the spill in Quesnel Lake, we may see a huge amount of mercury, along with other toxins, enter the Salish Sea,  and undoubtably affect the Sockeye that come out of Quesnel, one of the largest sockeye spawning habitat in Canada.

These fish make up the primary food of the remaining local pods of Orcas. And our fishermen catch them and we eat them. Lots of them. In other words, our fishing industry and our Orcas could be at risk.

We need our politicians to act now, to demand that the Canadian government stop pretending this not a serious problem and begin cleanup of this spill. There has been to date, no work begun on cleaning up the spill! (as of Sunday August 24)

This is not just about the lame excuses that Victoria and their muzzled scientists gives us about how they think their untreated sewage is not affecting the Straits. This is about possibly poisoning our fish and ourselves. And if we don’t stop it soon, it may be permanent. An oozing toxic mess that’s not cleaned up will pose a threat for decades to come. Just ask the folks at Hanford. The  comments coming from high level government Canadian officials are true doublespeak.  To be clear, the simplest way of understanding this is that if the massive amounts of tailing waste were not a danger to human health and the environment why are they held behind these ponds in the first place? It’s because they have been proven, for over 100 years, to be very harmful, if not deadly, to plants and animals, including us! There is no ‘lucky break’ (as stated by a senior government official) in a dump of this magnitude, there is only a bad outcome of various magnitudes.

The mine managers and the regulators that refused to enforce the laws, have created an environmental disaster of monumental proportion that has yet to fully unfold. What matters now is protecting the entire river systems that will carry this muck to the ocean. And protect the drinking water that might be pulled out of the river for human consumption. 

What’s the possibility of the US having a significant say in this issue? Read the following excellent article about our treaties with Canada, and the power that we have to force them to change legally. And remember that it’s because we have a Democratic, environmentally supportive president that we can read something like this. In a different previous era, our government would likely have been looking the other way in support of rampant environmental degradation.

Stephen Hume: Political fallout from Mount Polley mine spill may come from U.S.

One Response

  1. Took the Seattle Times four days to mention it. And added note: the great Eugene Smith was the photographer for the Minamata. J

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