First Nations Report Skin Falling Off Salmon After ‘Unprecedented’ Mine Spill In B.C.

Reports of salmon with their skin peeling off have been issued following the Mount Polley mine spill in British Columbia. A dam that held back a pond at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley gold and copper mine failed almost a week ago. The mine spill released 10 million cubic meters of water and 4.5 million cubic meters of silt that was contaminated with mine waste into the nearby watershed. British Columbia has declared a state of emergency. The mine spill affects some of Canada’s most pristine and revered lakes and rivers.

The pond contained waste from the Mount Polley mining process. It is contaminated with arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, and other toxic compounds, according to Business Vancouver. The disastrous mine spill has caused a water ban advisory. Residents have been instructed not to drink, bathe in, or give animals water that comes from Quesnel Lake, Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Cariboo Creek.

Recently, in Toledo, a massive water emergency was issued after toxic chemicals from excessive fertilization caused a toxic algae to enter the water supply. The mine spill in British Columbia has the potential to be significantly more serious. The area’s salmon may be affected for decades.

Craig Orr, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said that Salmon are returning to Quesnel Lake to spawn now. Salmon return to the same waterways where they were born to spawn. This time, the overpowering urge to return home is reportedly causing the salmon to swim into such toxicity that their skin is falling off, according to The Huffington Post. Orr said that the mine spill will cause salmon mortality on a scale we have not seen.

At least one and a half million migrating sockeye salmon are currently following their instincts and heading for Quesnel Lake. Chinook salmon spawn near the outlet of Quesnel Lake. Endangered Interior coho salmon are supposed to spawn in Hazeltine Creek in a few weeks. These salmon will swim into toxic tailings from the mine spill.

Salmon in less toxic areas exposed to copper will suffer damage to their navigation system among other health effects, Al Jazeera reports. Surviving salmon affected by copper poisoning may not be able to find their way through the British Columbia waterways in the future. The mine spill is devastating and will have lasting effects for an expansive area surrounding the Mount Polley gold and copper mine.

The people of Canada’s First Nations are witnessing the catastrophic effects of the mine spill. Relying on Salmon economically and culturally, the First Nations’ people are devastated by the spill. First Nations’ chiefs have already issued bans of fishing after seeing salmon with peeling skin.

“We are closing all fishing activities down the river immediately, fish are being found very sickly as we speak,” a notice by the chiefs of the Xaxli’p, Sek’wel’was and Tsk’way’laxw First Nations stated. The First Nations near Lillooet, British Columbia say the contaminants are “highly toxic.”

The Secwepemc Fisheries Commission called the mine spill a disaster and also issued a warning to stop fishing in the affected area of British Columbia.

“This is a massive and unique event in Canada,” The Sierra Club’s Gabriella Rappel told Al Jazeera News. “It’s really unprecedented in such a beautiful pristine environment that’s so important for fisheries as well as the local people.”

Imperial Metals’ president Bryan Kynoch described the mine spill contamination as “relatively benign” last Tuesday. Consequently, the mine spill received little international attention last week. The Mount Polley’s mine spill occurred after years of warnings to Imperial Metals from the British Columbia Ministry of Environment.

[Photo via Shuswap Nation Tribal Council’s Facebook]