First Nations worry Mount Polley impact not as benign as claimed

First Nations whose traditional territories have been spoiled by the Mount Polley tailings pond failure are seeking independent reviews of environmental testing already underway.

Aboriginal and environmental groups seek independent testing of lakes, rivers

Members of aboriginal group say they've been left in the dark about the full impact of the spill 2:09

First Nations whose traditional territories have been spoiled by the Mount Polley tailings pond failure are seeking independent reviews of environmental testing already underway.

"We are going to be looking at getting independent scientists and people to help us determine whether if the disaster is as benign as they say, said Bev Sellars, Chief of the Xatsull First Nation, or Soda Creek Indian Band. "We don't believe it is."

The Chief of the Williams Lake Indian Band is taking also exception to the controlled release of water in Polley Lake into Hazeltine Creek. The runoff was approved after tests confirmed water quality close to historically safe levels.

"I don't know that anybody knows the safety of the water testing that they're doing right now is surface," said Chief Ann Louie. "What about the sediments? I keep saying the plug that's sitting in front of Polley Lake is huge."

The tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C. released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden sand, scouring out Hazeltine Creek and contaminating Polley and Quesnel lakes. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Environmental groups in the area, where the mine has operated for 17 years, say it's still unclear what kind of minerals and heavy metals may be in the outflow.

The flow out of the breach has decreased dramatically, but has not completely stopped. Imperial Metals has begun building a temporary dike to stop flow out of the pond.

Staff from the First Nations Health Authority are working to determine if it's safe to consume fish from the waterways, focusing on salmon tissue sampling in the confluence areas of the Quesnel and Fraser River.

Millions of sockeye salmon are currently making their way to spawning grounds affected by the massive tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley mine 3:15

The water quality advisory remains in place for communities that get their water from Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek, Cariboo Creek and all parts of Quesnel Lake, as well as the Quesnel River south of 6236 Cedar Creek Road. This includes the communities of Winkley Creek, Abbott Creek, Mitchell Bay and the East Arm of Quesnel Lake.

Failure of an earthen dam, one week ago, released billions of litres of mine tailings into nearby creeks, lakes and rivers in the Cariboo region.

Environment Minister Mary Polak is appealing to people who knew of safety issues or concerns prior to the spill to come forward and speak with independent investigators on site.

If allegations are proven, she says the provincial government will deal with the matter directly.

With files from the CBC's Belle Puri

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