The Environmental Impact of Submarine Tailings Disposal at the Island Copper Mine on Vancouver Island: A Case History in Environmental Policy

CIM Vancouver 2002
Patrick Moore, Clem Pelletier,
Abstract In 1971, the government of British Columbia issued a permit for the Island Copper Mine to commence disposal of 33,000 tons per day of mine tailings into Rupert Inlet, a marine fjord on the NW coast of Vancouver Island. There was considerable controversy surrounding the development, public hearings were held and the subsequent permit required a comprehensive environmental monitoring program. The results of the program provide a thorough assessment of the environmental impact of submarine tailings disposal over the 24 year life of the mine. Following closure in December 1995, the monitoring program was continued to determine the extent of marine ecosystem recovery and re-colonization. Findings show that marine tailings were dispersed more widely than originally predicted. It is also clear that wide spread heavy metal contamination has not materialized. In retrospect it appears that submarine tailings disposal has resulted in far less severe environmental impacts than if the alternative of land disposal had been adopted. This review highlights significant aspects of public policy decision-making, design of environmental monitoring programs and questions the interpretation of monitoring data.

Keywords: Marine Disposal, Mining, Heavy Metals, Environmental monitoring, Pollution, Mine tailings
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