- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 6, 2014

LIKELY, British Columbia (AP) - A company that owns a gold and copper mine in British Columbia where a tailings pond burst, sending a massive wave of water and potentially toxic silt into surrounding waterways, has been formally ordered to clean up the site and prevent more material from escaping.

But government officials acknowledged Wednesday they still didn’t know exactly what spilled out or how the breach of the tailings pond - an engineered dam and dike system - will affect surrounding lakes and rivers, where salmon spawn, locals get their drinking water and tourism operators take their customers.

The pond at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley Mine, about 370 miles northeast of Vancouver, failed on Monday. That sent 13.1 million cubic yards of water and 5.9 million cubic yards of toxic silt into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.

A summary of material dumped into the tailings pond, filed last year with Environment Canada, listed nickel, arsenic, lead and copper and its compounds.

The breach prompted a ban on drinking or bathing in water from surrounding lakes and river, which was still in effect on Wednesday. The company has insisted the water in the tailings pond was safe and the solids that spilled out were “relatively benign.”

Company president Brian Kynoch has apologized to local residents and appeared to downplay the potential dangers posed by the spill. He said the water released from the pond was very close to drinking water. He also said mercury had never been detected in the water and arsenic levels were low.

The province’s Environment Ministry announced Wednesday that the company received a “pollution abatement order” a day earlier requiring the mine to immediately take steps to prevent more waste from escaping into nearby creeks and lakes. The company was also ordered to conduct an environmental assessment and submit a clean-up action plan by Wednesday, with a more detailed plan due by the end of next week.

The province also ordered the company to provide a detailed assessment of the materials that were released, including the anticipated impact on the environment.

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