VANCOUVER – A detailed impact assessment of the Mount Polley tailings-dam spill nearly two years ago has found ongoing damage to salmon fisheries and community life in First Nations communities.

A report of the findings was released Friday, July 29, 2016, by the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) and is available online.

On August 4, 2014, the tailings-storage dam at the Mount Polley mine in central British Columbia breached, releasing approximately 17 million cubic metres of toxic tailings water and eight million cubic metres of tailings into Polley Lake, Quesnel Lake and Hazeltine Creek. At the invitation of local First Nations, the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) commissioned an initial assessment to identify the health and social impacts and risks associated with the spill.

International health impact assessment (HIA) experts Dr. Janis Shandro of Monkey Forest Consulting Ltd and Dr. Mirko Winkler of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health School worked with a team of six community-based coordinators to document post-breach impacts experienced by 22 First Nation communities.  The objectives were to identify impacted communities and potential health risks and impacts related to the tailings dam breach using international assessment standards.

Among the major findings are:

  • Emotional stress. Stress is a key health impact, and appears to be shared among all the communities. Increased levels of emotional stress are linked to the severity of the event itself, how impacts and risks are perceived and the amount of uncertainty and mistrust of the information provided by the mine and the provincial government following the spill.
  • Direct impacts to traditional territory. Access to sacred lands and territory, traditional food sources and medicine has been lost in three First Nations – Xat’sull, T’exelcemc and Lhatko Dene.
  • Decreased salmon fishing. Impacts to commercial fisheries were reported in six communities, resulting in reduced income and employment opportunities for community members. Reductions in individual fishing were reported by almost all communities, resulting in changes to diet, physical activity and cultural practices.

The report draws attention to the strong links between First Nations, land and resources, culture, and associated health outcomes. Salmon fishing plays a central role in a wide variety of determinants of First Nations’ health ranging from physical exercise to social cohesion, building and sharing of cultural identity, and a wide range of factors affecting emotional health. It calls for urgent action to protect the health of the Fraser River system in an integrated manner that recognizes the links between the health of First Nations along the river to the health of this ecosystem and its salmon as a food source.

The HIA identifies a series of policy recommendations based on research and experiences working with indigenous communities and international mining companies worldwide. Additional data collection will establish health, environmental and socio-cultural baselines to identify, mitigate and manage future risks to the health and wellbeing of First Nations health.

The FNHA views this as particularly important because operations at the Mount Polley Mine have resumed, and the government has approved tailings water discharge into Quesnel Lake.

Read full report here: http://www.fnha.ca/about/news-and-events/news/mount-polley-health-impact-assessment