Scene of the Mount Polley mine tailings pond collapse on Aug. 4.

Mount Polley mine spill tests ‘reassuring’

Elevated levels of elements not unusual near mines, officials say following continued consistent tests

There’s no cause for people to worry about human health risks from the Mount Polley mine tailings spill despite some elevated levels of contaminants in the latest sediment tests, according to an Interior Health official.

“The results are quite reassuring,” medical health officer Dr. Trevor Corneil said Friday after the release of new tests conducted Aug. 12 and 15, adding clean water without suspended sediment that’s outside the impact zone continues to be safe to drink.

“The water continues to be safe, the fish continue to be safe, if normal food and water practices are undertaken.”

That includes not drinking cloudy water or eating the sediment within the spill impact zone itself, where Corneil said “slightly elevated” arsenic levels have been found, along with copper, iron, manganese, silver, selenium and vanadium.

Elevated levels of various elements are to be expected at an active mine, he said.

Corneil noted arsenic is naturally occurring and measurable in most water sources.

Background data from samples taken last spring show there were previously elevated levels of the same contaminants – though not to the same extent – in Quesnel Lake and Hazeltine Creek prior to the disaster, environment ministry regional operations director Jenninfer McGuire told reporters.

She said the arsenic concentration tested far below a national guideline for human consumption.

Tests released the previous week indicated higher levels of selenium in the gonads and livers of fish meant someone who consumed more than a cup a day of those fish organs would exceed human consumption guidelines, but not if they just ate the flesh.

The Aug. 4 breach of the tailings pond dam caused concern among First Nations and other fishery users that Fraser River salmon might be contaminated.

The province is shifting to an audit role as Mount Polley mine owner Imperial Metals embarks on a long-term monitoring plan that McGuire said is required to measure any potential impacts on aquatic life.

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