That catastrophe north of us

Nature is as indifferent to national borders as Americans are consumed by them. The near blackout of U.S. news on the Mount Polley mine disaster near the Cariboo region of British Columbia illustrates the self-involved culture of regional and national media. Why should Northwesterners be concerned about a breached tailings dam up north?

With the notable exception of the Seattlepi.com’s Joel Connelly, a longtime B.C. and enviro watchdog who flagged the coverage issue, the mining catastrophe that began a week ago today is off the radar, supplanted by the primary election, the horrors of the Yazidis in Iraq and the distractions of a bucolic summer.

But the reality of the web of life and threatened sockeye salmon runs, of globalism, and of resonant lessons for lawmakers in the Pacific Northwest should push this man-made disaster to page one.

A once-pristine natural area will never again be the same. According to CBC, the breached tailings pond from the open pit copper and gold mine released 4.5 million cubic meters of metals-laden fine sand and 10 billion liters of water. A 2013 report from the Imperial Metals Corporation/Mount Polley Mine documents more than 406,000 kilograms of arsenic and more than 177,000 kg. of lead (mercury registers at around 3,000 kg.) on site of a pond that, according to the B.C. Ministry of Environment, was essentially drained. B.C and the Environment Ministry are doing what governments are wont to do: Covering their tail on tailings: “Seven geotechnical inspections took place before the mine went into care and maintenance in 2001 and nine geotechnical inspections have taken place since it reopened in March 2005.”

But what about a 2011 environmental consultant’s report, commissioned by Williams Lake First Nation, that there wasn’t a sustainable way to discharge excess water and that the company didn’t have a contingency strategy in the event of a tailings pond failure? Mount Polley demands not only a comprehensive investigation, but genuine safeguards (and consequences for not embracing those safeguards) to minimize future breaches.

The toxic stew in tailings ponds are a tangible reality for anyone who grew up in Montana or Wyoming.

Mount Polley also serves as a wake-up call to Northwest lawmakers not to postpone or ignore environmental warnings (consider the leaking 1940s-era T-111 tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.)

Victoria’s discharge of untreated sewage into the Salish Sea registers with Washingtonians for obvious reasons. This needs to as well.

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