According to a report released by the B.C. Auditor General on Dec. 17, there are a minimum of 2,000 contaminated sites in the province that threaten the environment and public health. In addition, the inactive Britannia Mine remains the worst single source of pollution in the province.
While releasing his 67-page report, Managing Contaminated Sites on Provincial Lands, Wayne Strelioff admitted that the inventory of sites is incomplete, and said the province isnt doing enough to manage or rehabilitate the sites.
"Weve found the government does not have an adequate program to manage the sites and is not adequately reporting on its performance," said Strelioff. "So weve recommended some major changes."
The Auditor General is recommending that the government appoint an agency to ensure that there are management plans for the clean-up and management of contaminated sites. The agency will likely fall under the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management.
Although it could cost billions to clean up the sites, Strelioff says that the costs of inaction are already high. The known liability is already $144 million, which he says is far from a complete accounting.
The number doesnt take into account the effect the contaminated sites have on human health, fish stocks, wildlife, and other variables.
He also called the contaminated sites a legacy of the past, when there were few regulations and very little knowledge of the risks.
"Provincial and federal regulations now ensure that environmental impacts from natural resource extraction and use can be minimized and, where there are unacceptable impacts, that the responsible party pays for remediation and restoration," wrote Strelioff in the report.
Clean up the Britannia Beach site, which can drain up to two tonnes of sulphuric acid and other heavy metal toxins into Howe Sound a day, is expected to cost approximately $75 million. The province will contribute $45 million to the project, plus another $30 million through a divestment of Skeena Cellulose.
The Auditor Generals report also identified several dozen other potentially toxic mine sites, as well as shared anecdotal evidence of two rivers on Vancouver Island that run red and blue as a result of iron and copper compounds.
The contaminated sites that have been catalogued include gas stations, landfills, chemical processors, scrap yards, metal finishing and cleaning industries, companies that process iron and steel, the mining industry, oil and gas exploration, pulp and paper mills, and farming.
The list of contaminants identified at the various sites include toxic or carcinogenic chemicals, such as arsenic, cyanide and benzene; toxic or phytotoxic (poisonous to plants and aquatic life) metals such as lead, zinc, chromium, nickel and copper; organic materials such as oils and solvents; corrosive substances such as acids and sulphates; asbestos; radioactive materials; coal tars; toluene extracts and creosols; sulphur; PCBs; polyaromatic hydrocarbons; pesticides and herbicides; dioxins and furans.