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.

Save our state environmental budgets. Vote NO on 1033

This may be the most important vote you may make in years. Initiative 1033 proposes to limit state and local government spending at current recessionary levels and to base any increases in future years on a rigid formula or on voter approval. The effect would be an estimated $6 billion reduction by 2015 in state general fund revenues alone, seriously reducing education, health, social services and environmental programs, not to mention reductions in local government services.

Initiative 1033 aims to lock in state and local government spending at this year’s recession levels. It proposes to establish this year’s state and local government budgets as a base line and to limit increases in subsequent years’ budgets to a formula based on inflation and population growth. Any state or local government revenues exceeding a year’s budgetary limit would be returned to property owners as a property tax cut. If state or local governments want to exceed the limits imposed by the initiative, they can do so if they receive the majority approval of voters.

What’s wrong with Initiative 1033 and why it should be soundly defeated:

• The national recession forced $1.5 billion in cuts to education, caused 35,000 people to lose health insurance and cost thousands of jobs. By limiting state, counties and city budgets to recession-era levels, those cuts would become permanent.

• I-1033 would force even deeper cuts in the future, because the state’s ability to provide services wouldn’t go up with costs and demand.

• I-1033’s formula is rigid and arbitrary and would only cause more cutbacks in services. The costs of many services go up faster than the rate of inflation — in particular education and health care. The independent Washington Budget & Policy Center estimates that I-1033’s formula would provide just 38 percent of the revenue necessary to continue to fund public education at current levels.

• I-1033’s formula for population growth doesn’t take into account that certain areas of our population will cost the state more than others. The state’s growing senior population will need more medical care and services, but I-1033’s formula doesn’t take that into account.

• The non-partisan Washington State Office of Financial Management found that “…the initiative reduces state general fund revenues that support education; social, health and environmental services; and general government activities by an estimated $5.9 billion by 2015.”

Dept of Ecology finally approves rain barrels

Apparently Jay Manning approved the use of rain barrels before leaving.. The story was covered by Chris Dunagan in his recent column.

Rainwater harvesting at home given a ‘thumbs up’

October 15th, 2009 by cdunagan

Jay Manning’s last official act as director of the Washington Department of Ecology was to announce that a water right will not be required to collect rainwater from the roof of a building.

It has been a bone of contention among some folks that state water law appears to require a water rights permit for the diversion of “water resources,” which is defined as “all waters above, upon, or beneath the surface of the earth, located within the state and over which the state has sole or concurrent jurisdiction.”

But state water law also gives the director of Ecology broad discretion to write regulations in the public interest.

Ecology specifically recognizes that rainwater harvesting can be a tool to manage stormwater. See Ecology’s paper on this subject.

In a one-page statement (PDF 124 kb), Manning declared:

“The on-site storage and/or beneficial use of rooftop or guzzler collected rainwater is not subject to the permit process of RCW 90.03.”

Read the rest of the story at Chris’ site, listed above.

Humor -China celebrates becoming the world’s top polluter…

A break from the hard news around us….From the Onion, a great site for a giggle now and then. China is celebrating becoming the top polluter. enjoy…Thanks to the Onion.

China Celebrates Its Status As World’s Number One Air Polluter

Jay Manning of Ecology moves on to become gov’s chief of staff

Well, this brings up an interesting change in Olympia…

From Chris’ blog:

Jay Manning, who has headed the Washington Department of Ecology the past four-plus years, is moving into somewhat uncharted territory as the governor’s chief of staff.

Manning, a native of Manchester in Kitsap County, has always been associated with environmental issues and occasional environmental battles. Now, he will use his organizational and negotiation skills to work alongside Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“Jay Manning brings incredible leadership skills and knowledge of our state to this new position,” Gregoire said in a news release. “He works effectively with citizens all across our state. He has an extraordinary ability to bring people together to forge solutions to difficult problems and seize opportunities for Washington state.”

I reached Jay Manning this afternoon to congratulate him and ask him what the heck he was thinking.

He told me that both the Ecology director post and his new chief of staff position include an “incredible array of issues,” but the new job comes with a broader range of responsibilities. It will require him to become more of a generalist, which is a new challenge for him.

More at Chris’ blog:

Jefferson commissioners favor 150-foot shoreline buffer in new plan

10/2 Peninsula Daily News

Jefferson commissioners favor 150-foot shoreline buffer in new plan

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — After 1,035 public comments, hearings and at least 27 hours of deliberations this week, Jefferson County commissioners finished reviewing a proposed shoreline master program, and said they favor a 150-foot standard marine buffer for new homes, as well as a prohibition on marine aquaculture.

“We went with the 150-foot buffer to start with, that will be adjusted lot by lot, permit by permit, as people can justify it,” county Commissioner David Sullivan, D-Cape George and board chairman, said late Thursday afternoon.

Pink Salmon run large this year

Big pink run by Staff Report

The Skagit River pink salmon run is expected to have 1.2 million fish this year, the offspring of the large pink run of 2007.

Anglers are reporting smaller-than-average pinks this year.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Brett Barkdull said the fish are coming in at 3.5 pounds on average.

More at

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