Quinsam Coalmine Shows High Arsenic

by Delores Broten

After decades of monitoring by the Campbell River Environmental Council, the Quinsam watershed at the edge of Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island has finally received some of the scientific scrutiny it deserves, and, apparently, requires. An assessment of arsenic levels in lake sediment around the Quinsam coal mine has been initiated by the Canadian Water Network.

The city of Campbell River gets its drinking water downstream from the mine, and high sulphate levels have been a focus of concern for years.

Dr. W. Cullen reported to a packed public meeting in Campbell River that the arsenic, especially in the sediments in Long Lake, which receives seepage from several waste pits and settling ponds for coal waste and sulphur washed from the coal, was highly elevated – up to thirty times BC contaminated sediment levels. Tests also indicated that the arsenic is of a kind which can be stored in the bodies of living creatures.

The arsenic is released from iron pyrites by sulphate, which is formed with the exposure of the wrong kind of rock to water and weather.
The report is succinct: “Arsenic concentrations are elevated in Long Lake as a result of acid rock drainage and other chemical process associated with mine waste. The high arsenic levels are associated with high concentrations of sulphate. The arsenic is available to bivalves, and presumably other biota.”

The mine is currently seeking to expand into an area which is extremely high in sulphur-bearing rock, and that expansion has been exempted from environmental assessment by the BC government.

When asked by members of Coalwatch, who are monitoring a proposed new coal mine near Fanny Bay, whether similar problems could be anticipated in that mine, Cullen indicated the answer was yes.
Several days later, Hillsborough Resources, who own the mine, released a statement that there was no proof that the arsenic came from the mine.

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See: An Environmental Investigation of the Quinsam Watershed, prepared by Environmental Sciences Group, RMC, Kingston, Ontario and UBC, April 2010 (RMC-CCE-ES-10-20)/

[From WS Summer 2010]

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