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      The 2014 Mount Polley Disaster:
      When Capitalist Profits Overrule the Environment & Safety Of People

      By Doug Pittman

      Something which has been conveniently ignored since August 4, 2014 when it occurred is penalizing those responsible for the massive tailings dam breach and spill into the environment of central BC just east of Williams Lake at the Mt Polley Mine. On that date, 21 million cubic meters of toxic tailings solids and mill wastewater from this copper-gold mine burst through the dam embankment and inundated Hazeltine Creek right down to its confluence with Quesnel Lake. This amount of material is the size of 10,000 Olympic sized pools and according to the Oct. 18, 2016 Mining Watch report it “destroyed or permanently affected 2,612,470m2 of aquatic and riparian habitats-equivalent to washing away 2/3 of the area of Stanley Park”. The purpose of this Mining Watch report is to lay out the known facts of the deleterious effects and reasons for the spill in order to justify a private prosecution citizens lawsuit to hold those responsible for it, including continuing negligence on the part of both the Mt Polley Mining Company (MPMC) and the BC Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) in lieu of government action to prosecute the guilty parties, for their contravention of the Fisheries Act, now over four years after the event.

      Like everything in this world, this set of circumstances did not happen overnight and there was ample time to have corrected these situations. While there was warning from both MPMC employees, and from the MEM about these hazardous conditions, no action was taken either by the company or the government to stop them so the consequence was probably inevitable.

      As for the harm to the fish in the area there are 20 different fish species including: Sockeye, Coho, Chinook, Kokanee, Rainbow trout, Lake Trout, Pygmy Whitefish, Mountain Whitefish, Lake Whitefish and Burbot. Section 35 (1) of the Fisheries Act states that “No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery” and “For the purposes of this Act, serious harm to fish is the death of fish or any permanent alteration to or destruction of fish habitat”.

      For the harm to the local fish and fish habitat, it suffices to say that Hazeltine Creek which connects Polley Lake with Quesnel Lake was drastically affected by the tailings breach. The ensuing debris flow down this 9 km creek “carved a new valley, wider and deeper” than ever before observed. Hazeltine Ck was known as a Rainbow Trout spawning and rearing environment and fish species in the lower creek included Sockeye, Coho and Chinook salmon. Golder Associates EIA Report concluded that Hazeltine Ck “was no longer a viable habitat following the dam failure”.

      Also, juvenile habitat especially 15% of the High rated juvenile habitat on the West Arm of Quesnel Lake was “permanently altered” as a consequence of the estimated 18.6 million m3 of tailings material that entered the Lake. According to the Mining Watch 2016 report, “in Hazeltine Ck, arsenic, copper, iron and nickel were elevated above pre-event concentrations. In the Quesnel Lake littoral zone, “copper was 24 times the pre-event reference concentration”.

      Ignoring this damage to the environment and to the fish in particular sends the wrong message to the BC and federal governments that it is okay to harm the environment and that it is also okay to put profits first before environmental protection of precious BC wilderness and the associated fisheries.

      Not Only Mt. Polley

      The Westray coal mine disaster in the Pictou coalfields of Nova Scotia in 1992 was where human life of 26 miners was lost in a similar situation of negligence on the part of both the mining company and the Nova Scotia government. According to a report by Melissa Hughes of Western University entitled “The Westray Mine Incident: Corporate Violence and Governmental Crime as the Roots of Disaster”, it was “the negligent actions of inspectors from the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and managers from Curragh Resources Inc. led to the conditions in the mine that allowed the explosion to occur” (of methane gas). Also, due to a delay in federal funding for the mine, it significantly reduced the time to prepare production in the mine before the deadline for the first coal shipment so that means there was a speed-up in which corners are cut and safety violations are ignored.

      While the Department of Labour issued orders based on its inspections to make the mine safer, “it did nothing within its power to ensure compliance with these orders.” Inspectors never shut the mine down in spite of unsafe working conditions or do follow-up visits to ensure compliance with the orders. So careful investigation of the Westray disaster shows that similar to the Mt Polley tailings dam burst, profits of these capitalist companies came first and foremost before safety. This was also the case in Chile where the miners who were trapped underground for 69 days were ordered to go there despite warnings by lead miners of imminent failure in the mine, supposedly to not hold up production (putting profits before people) and it was extremely fortuitous that they were rescued alive.

      We Must Organize and Mobilize

      What this all says is that we cannot rely on the government of Canada to protect working and poor peoples’ best interests. All governments of Canada are governments of the capitalist class and consequently serve their interests. We, working and poor people, need to have our own government to protect and extend our interests and secure and protect mother nature and our resources. Let’s organize, educate, mobilize and protest the degradation of environment by mining companies and their backers, the government of Canada.

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