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A huge release of toxic waste from a burst dam in western Canada comes at a terrible time for millions of spawning salmon heading up the Fraser River system, a fisheries expert says. A dam holding back a tailings pond at the Mount Polley mine in central British Columbia collapsed Monday, releasing about 4.5 million cubic meters of fine sand carrying toxic metals, and billions of gallons of contaminated water. The deluge poured into Polley Lake, then scoured Hazeline Creek before hitting Quesnel Lake.
The spill destroyed spawning beds for endangered coho salmon in the immediate area and could threaten thousands of chinook just heading up the Quesnel River, said Gord Sterritt, executive director of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance, which works with First Nations groups in the region. He said it's uncertain how this will affect millions of sockeye heading up the Fraser River — a key source of food for people in the region. “This couldn’t happen at a worse time,” he told NBC News. But another expert told Macleans that the system will dilute toxins quickly, with minimal long-term problems. Provincial authorities are working with the mining company, Imperial Metals, on plans for cleanup.
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