Alberta Coal Mine Spills Contaminated Waters Into River

Residents along the Athabasca River, which flows through the oil sands region of Alberta, are being advised to avoid drinking from the waterway after contaminated fluids were released from a coal mine storage pond.

The warning was issued after an undetermined amount of water and sediment, including shale and coal particles, spilled from Obed Mountain Mine near Hinton into the river, the Alberta Environment Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

The mine west of Edmonton where the open-pit breach occurred is owned by Toronto-based Sherritt International Corp. Gretchen Gordon, a Sherritt spokeswoman, had no immediate comment when contacted by phone and e-mail.

Communities notified of the incident on Nov. 1 have not been drawing water from the river as most nearby don’t use it for drinking though residents were cautioned they’d see a change in color in the Athabasca as the sediment moves downstream, the ministry said. Farmers were also asked not to let livestock drink from the river until full water-sampling test results are known.

The ministry and Alberta Energy Regulator are conducting independent investigations into the environmental and health impacts of the incident and release of contaminants into the river, Jessica Potter, a spokeswoman for the ministry, said today in a phone interview.

The Athabasca flows northeasterly from Columbia Glacier in Jasper National Park in western Alberta for about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles). Coal contributes about 40 percent of Alberta’s electricity generation.

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