UNBC Research At Mt Polley Continues

Prince George, BC, Canada / CKPG-TV
UNBC Research At Mt Polley Continues

A group of researchers, including two from UNBC, have received funding from the federal government’s Environmental Damages Fund to aid in their continued work around the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach. On August 4, 2014, the wall to the tailings pond failing, and a rush of roughly 24 million cubic metres of mine waste in Hazeltine Creek and adjoining watersheds. Now, Dr. Ellen Petticrew and Dr. Phil Owens from UNBC will share in $800,000 in funding, which comes from a new source.
“There’s a pot of money, nationally, that has been set aside when industries get fined. And this money is used to do reclamation work or research work associated with that type of impact, or that kind of disturbance,” Explains Dr. Petticrew.
Previously, the money would be used in the jurisdictions where the breach occurred.
“And they’ve now allowed this to go national. So while a lot of this money comes from mining fines that came from Quebec and Northern Ontario, they [the federal government] are now allowing it to be used further afield.”
The Dr. Max Blouw Quesnel River Research Centre has been in place for more than a  decade. Researchers have been collecting data on the watershed over those years. Those researchers were on the ground when the breach took place, giving them a unique set of information.
“It speaks allot to having research centres, field centres, like the Quesnel River Research Centre and for doing academic research on environmental questions, watershed questions,” says Dr. Owens. “It does give us a unique opportunity to contribute to the long term development of this story, because we do have this background data.”
UNBC provided stopgap funding while the EDF was pending, which allowed the team to borrow a unique piece of equipment from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Halifax.
“One of the important things we felt we needed to do was get samples of the sediment and tailings at the bottom of the lake. And critically, it’s that material which is at the very top, which interacts with the water column and several organisms that are likely to be at that location.”
Other core sampling equipment tends to disturb that layer, while this special equipment from Halifax does not.
Now, the crew will work for the next three years to keep vigilant.
“We’re following this material through the food chain with the idea, we think, that in the next few years, we may or may not see a signal in the fish,” says Dr. Petticrew. “Right now the fish seem to be in pretty good condition in terms of tissue samples for metals and they are identified as suitable for eating. But what we’d like to do is make sure that bio-accumulation of these metals doesn’t occur over the next few years.”
The EDF funding will also fund the research of collaborators Dr. Susan Baldwin and Dr. Bernard Laval, both at the University of British Columbia, and Dr. Greg Pyle at the University of Lethbridge, in addition to Dr. Stephen Déry at UNBC. UNBC Research Associate Todd French has been hired to assist with the research through the EDF funds. In addition, several undergraduate and graduate students, and post-doctoral scientists will receive funding for their work through the grant.

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