The Ministry of Environment revealed it has no plans to designate Long Lake a contaminated site despite the presence of arsenic in lake sediments.
Four Campbell River environmental groups, including Greenways Land Trust, recently wrote a letter, through EcoJustice which provides legal services to citizens to help protect the environment, asking the provincial government to determine Long Lake as contaminated.
“Our interest is in protecting the salmon that depend on the river system but there are broader social implications as well,” said Stan Goodrich of Greenways Land Trust. “If Long Lake is declared a contaminated site and it is determined that it should be cleaned up the next question is – who should pay for it? The taxpayers?”
But according to a ministry official, there’s no need to designate the lake a problem area as ministry staff have reviewed water chemistry data and determined arsenic levels in Long Lake are within the BC Water Quality Objectives and Guidelines for drinking water and for protection of aquatic life.
“Fish surveys in Long Lake conducted by the Ministry of Environment have found fish populations to be healthy and typical of other lakes in the area,” said Suntanu Dalal, a ministry official. “At this time, the Ministry of Environment is not considering designating Long Lake as a contaminated site.”
According to EcoJustice’s letter to the ministry, a recent study by the Canadian Water Network and Dr. William Cullen found arsenic levels in Long Lake sediments to be over thirty times the level that qualifies as a contaminated site under the province’s Contaminated Sites Regulation. The study also points to Quinsam Coal Mine as the most likely source of the contamination.
Although the ministry says it does recognize mining as one of the sources of arsenic to Long Lake sediment, Dalal also said it acknowledges arsenic levels were well above the province’s sediment quality guideline and Contaminated Sites Regulation prior to mining operations in the area.
“The local geology is rich in arsenic and, as a result, Long Lake and other lakes and streams in the area contain naturally-elevated sediment arsenic levels. Such background considerations are integral to the assessment of significance of potential impacts and risks,” said Dalal.
Gary Gould, vice-president of Hillsborough Resources, which operates Quinsam Coal, has also repeatedly denied the mine is the culprit of elevated levels of arsenic in Long Lake.
Despite not laying blame solely on the mine, the Ministry of Environment is keeping an eye on Quinsam Coal and recently stepped up monitoring and enforcement at the mine. It has requested the company collect and treat seep water and manage arsenic and iron-laden precipitate and report back to the ministry on its progress by Jan. 31. The mine must also conduct a detailed study to evaluate the extent and biological implications of arsenic leachate and precipitate.
Dalal said the ministry will continue to work with the company and the community to ensure the long-term health of Long Lake.
Meanwhile, environmental groups recently requested the province conduct an environmental assessment out of concern the mine’s proposed expansion will introduce more toxins into the environment. Goodrich said the assessment was not granted.