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'Environmental disaster' prompts water ban for B.C.'s Cariboo and Quesnel regions

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, August 6, 2014, 7:26 PM - About 300 residents in B.C.'s Cariboo and Quesnel regions are being advised to avoid consuming, swimming in, or cooking with water after wastewater from the nearby Mount Polley copper and gold mine was released into several creeks early Monday morning.

The Cariboo Regional District declared a local state of emergency Wednesday after data showed that selenium concentrations in the water exceeded safety guidelines.

Imperial Metals, the company responsible for the mine, says the organization "accepts full responsibility" for the breach, which many residents are calling an environmental disaster.

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"I apologize for what happened," Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

"If you asked me two weeks ago if this could have happened, I would have said it couldn't."

Imperial Metals says it isn't sure why the dam failed and released approximately 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metal-rich sand into waterways.

"Until we conduct an investigation, I would just be speculating," Kynoch said, adding that the company needs a few more days to determine the cause and the extent of the damage.

During the press conference several concerned residents asked about the quality of the drinking water. Kynoch assured them it is safe for consumption.

"It's very close to drinking water quality, the water in our tailings," he told residents. "There's almost everything in it but at low levels."

It's believed the wastewater contaminated several lakes and rivers, prompting officials to evacuate campgrounds and enforce water bans.

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