Action needed on abandoned mines: Regulations not working at Britannia

For the fourth time since purchasing one of the worst polluting mine sites in North America, Vancouver-based Copper Beach Estates Ltd. (CBEL) failed to meet a provincial government order to halt the flow of deadly toxins from the old Britannia mine.

The company says it has been unable to secure financing for a clean-up plan that would include building a wastewater treatment plant, and using the mine's open pits as a landfill site for contaminated soils and industrial wastes.

Since purchasing the property in 1979, CBEL has received four pollution abatement orders under BC's Waste Management Act. The latest clean-up order was issued in the fall of 1999 and expired August 31, 2000. At the time of its issuance, the Environmental Mining Council of BC (EMCBC) argued that the company's contaminated soils landfill idea was neither financially viable nor environmentally sound.

"The financing institutions or partners that CBEL has approached apparently reached a similar conclusion," said EMCBC executive director (and MiningWatch Canada co-chair) Alan Young. "It's time the provincial government recognized that this so-called plan is going nowhere and did something to end the continued pollution at this site."

"The provincial and federal governments need to put a solution in place to stop tonnes of copper and zinc from flowing into Howe Sound again this winter and spring," said Karen Wristen, executive director of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. "They need to either sue the companies who are responsible for this mess, or commit to a clean-up plan using public funds until the responsible parties are brought to justice."

The BC government has notified several large companies who earlier operated or owned the mine that they are potentially responsible for the clean-up at Britannia. The companies include ARCO, CanZinco and ArrowHead/Ivaco. None of the companies has accepted responsibility for the pollution or offered to assist in cleaning up the site.

Britannia is but one of more than 1,800 closed and abandoned mines in BC, and well over 10,000 abandoned mines in Canada. The impacts of many of these abandoned sites on fisheries and human health and safety are deadly serious. The clean-up of abandoned mines like Britannia needs to be a top priority for both the federal and provincial governments who have neglected this serious problem for far too long.

There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. At a recent meeting of provincial and federal Mines Ministers there was agreement on the need to set up a National Action Plan on abandoned mines.

For more information on Britannia, or on the issue of abandoned mines, contact MiningWatch Canada or the Environmental Mining Council of BC (tel: (250) 384-2686; or e-mail [email protected].