One billion liters of toxic mine pollution has flooded into the Athabasca river
An estimated one billion litres — or about 264 million gallons — of muck from an Alberta, Canada coal mine broke out of its containment pond on Halloween. The liquid flowed down two creeks and across 25 kilometers from the Obed Mountain coal mine to the Athabasca River, and is now headed downriver.
“There’s actually quite a noticeable change of color [in the river],” said Alberta Environment spokeswoman Jessica Potter. “It’s like muddy water… murky, muddy water.”
Staff from the Alberta Health Services are now analyzing water samples to check if any of the sediments could cause environmental or health damage. The water contained coal dust, clay, mudstone, sandstone, shale and dirt, though the Edmonton Journal quoted an anonymous Sherritt official claiming “the materials in the pond are inert and aren’t toxic to humans or fish.”
According to the Journal, such containment bodies are generally designed so that water runoff from the operations flows into the ponds, and then stays until the sediments settle to the bottom, leaving the water safe to release. Operations at the mine, which is owned by Sherritt International, were actually suspended last November, and it since been undergoing reclamation.