November 12, 2013 — Keepers of the Athabasca is concerned about the potential environmental effects of a massive release of coal mine wastewater into two creeks that flow into the Athabasca River, and calls on the Alberta government to immediately release the results of the water tests it has conducted. It further calls on the government to indicate publicly how it is going to mitigate this spill, especially given that freeze-up of the creeks and river has already begun. We also call on the company involved, Sherritt International, to inform the public of the chemicals it uses in its mining process and the contaminants contained in its coal mine wastewater ponds.
On November 1, 2013 the Government of Alberta announced what is likely the largest spill in Canadian history of wastewater from a coal mine containment pond, located on the Obed Mountain Coal Mine site, near Hinton, Alberta. The announcement and its two updates (November 2 and 4) contain almost no information about the amount of wastewater spilled, its contents, or their likely effects on the environment and human health.
Following a pattern of downplaying the potential damage from spills and blowouts associated with the energy industry and providing the least amount of information possible to Albertans, these announcements stress that the spill contained sediments such as “clay, mud, shale and coal particles,” and that “water sample tests do not indicate any health risks.” They do not alert the public to potential damage to sediments, invertebrates and fish from wastewater contaminants such as flocculants, selenium, heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which are cancer-causing. Furthermore, results of the water sample tests have not been released to the public, despite promises to do so. “With so little information to go on,” said Harvey Scott, Keepers of the Athabasca Director, “it is hard to know what the effects of the spill will be on such things as winter dissolved oxygen levels , the spring spawn or the long term aquatic health of the riverine ecosystem.”
Information is coming out slowly in media reports, thanks to the efforts of investigative reporters and others. Media reports of interviews with ministry officials indicate that Fisheries and Oceans Canada is investigating to determine whether there are any violations of federal fisheries laws; Alberta Environment now acknowledges that damage has been done to fisheries habitat; the company involved, Sherritt International, declines to list publicly the chemicals it uses in its mining process; an official with the company does report that it uses flocculants, thickening agents that can cause harm to fish if released to waterways.
Keepers of the Athabasca is concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the Alberta Government and the company, and is pursuing the release of crucial information about the spill not only because of the failure of one containment pond, but also because there are two similar ponds on the Obed Mountain site and many more on the sites of current and proposed coal mines in the area. This raises broader questions about containment pond design and inspection schedules that also need to be answered. The Alberta public deserves no less.
For More Information Contact:
Jesse Cardinal, Coordinator, Keepers of the Athabasca
Harvey Scott, Director, Keepers of the Athabasca
Jule Asterisk, Director, Keepers of the Athabasca