“Business as Usual” Cannot Continue: Mount Polley Report on Tailings Dam Safety

(Ottawa) MiningWatch Canada calls on the Province of British Columbia, but also other provinces and the federal government, to heed the warnings of the recent independent expert review panel report and not to delay fully implementing its recommendations.

The expert panel report on last year’s massive mine waste spill at the Mount Polley mine in central British Colombia, released a week ago, throws grave doubt on the safety of hundreds of mine tailings dams across Canada and thousands more around the world. In British Colombia alone –and despite ongoing government efforts– the expert panel fears that as many as six tailings dam failures will occur in the next three decades if nothing changes. This translates into many more potential accidents across the country and abroad, and MiningWatch calls upon all governments to take immediate action to ensure public safety and environmental protection.

“Tailings impoundments like this are the standard practice for most mines in Canada and the world, but the expert panel report is clear: ‘business as usual cannot continue.’ Major regulatory oversight, industry standards, and technology applications all need to change to avoid future costly disasters like Mount Polley’s tailings dam breach,” says Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for the organization. “No communities and no ecosystems will be safe until major changes take place.”

MiningWatch Canada supports the British Columbia First Nations’ demand not to “cherry-pick” from the expert panel report and implement all seven of its recommendations for fundamental changes in mine waste management.

MiningWatch also strongly supports concerned communities, First Nations, environmental groups and unions calling for stronger independent, public regulatory oversight of mining sites and dams, as opposed to relying too heavily on industry self-regulation. “The B.C. government should go much further in its investigation of the safety of the province’s 123 tailings dams by doing ‘on-the-ground’ surveys – not just desk reviews of the information provided by the industry. In fact, all governments should do this, right now, without delay,” insists Lapointe.

MiningWatch is very concerned that no Canadian province or territory has yet announced any new measures, or even plans, to aggressively improve tailings dam safety as strongly recommended by the expert panel. There are currently no comprehensive, public inventories of the hundreds of tailings impoundment sites and dams in any of the Canadian provinces, let alone their safety status.

“Following the expert panel report, an actual on-the-ground safety review of all tailings dams should a top priority for all mining regulators across Canada,” says Lapointe. “But the most important thing is to change the way the industry and regulators alike look at these operations,” he adds. “Saying this cannot be allowed to happen again is not the same as actually taking the necessary steps to protect communities and watersheds alike.”


  • Ugo Lapointe, Canadian Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, [email protected] Cell (514) 708-0134


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