Imperial Metals ordered to stop toxic tailings spill

Imperial Metals (TSX:III) must stop the release of toxins from the damaged tailings pond at its interior B.C. mine and take responsibility for any role it played in the disaster, Bill Bennett, the province's minister of energy and mines, said Wednesday.

Bennett told a news conference in Williams Lake that the Vancouver-based company has been issued a pollution abatement order and could face up to $1 million in fines should it fail to comply.

The miner has also been ordered to file environmental impact assessments in connection with the incident.

“If the company has made some mistakes … they will have to bear the responsibility,” Bennett said.

The catastrophic failure early Monday of the tailings pond wall at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine near Likely released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand, contaminating several lakes, rivers and creeks in the Cariboo region.

Three government inspectors are at the site to investigate the cause of the enormous breach, Bennett said, adding they will interview current and former mine employees for clues as to what went wrong.

“We’ll listen to everyone,” he said. “Over a period of time … weeks, if not months, we’ll determine how this happened.”

Immediate concerns

Bennett said water levels in the tailings pond are low but rain could wash more pollutants into Polley Lake and so one pressing task is to repair the dam.

"It’s a very important job for the company and government to get their heads together and block any additional drainage,” he said.

Another concern is that some of the tailings have “essentially formed a little dam” of their own and are blocking the mouth of Polley Lake, which has risen about 1.5 meters as a result, Bennett said.

“The company is going to have to deal with it very expeditiously,” he said, noting that the miner is pumping water from the lake into a historic empty pit on the mine site in an effort to deal with the problem.

The results of initial water-quality tests are due to be released Thursday at a public meeting in Likely, the community worst affected by the disaster and which is under a water ban.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Premier Christy Clark will make her first visit to Likely since the dam failure three days ago.