Risks and Impacts to First Nation Health and the Mount Polley Mine Tailings Dam Failure

  • Janis Shandro
  • Laura Jokinen
  • Alison Stockwell
  • Francesco Mazzei
  • Mirko S. Winkler
Keywords: First Nations, health impact assessment, Mount Polley Mine, Aboriginal health, Fraser River system, salmon


In August 2014, the Mount Polley Mine tailings dam was breached, releasing millions of cubic metres of tailings water and tailings into Polley Lake, Quesnel Lake, and Hazeltine Creek in British Columbia (BC), Canada. To date, no assessment has identified the communities impacted by this event, nor how they were impacted, from a social or health perspective. This qualitative study uses a community-based participatory research approach to identify (1) First Nations impacted by this incident and (2) impacts to Aboriginal health experienced by these communities. To address these gaps in knowledge, the First Nations Health Authority funded the project team to complete the first two phases of a health impact assessment. This work draws attention to the strong links between First Nations, the land and resources, culture, and associated health outcomes. In considering the importance of Aboriginal health and culturally appropriate health pathways, the project team identified 4 key impacts: environmental dispossession, emotional stress, altered dietary patterns, and changes in physical activity. The similarity in impacts associated with the Mount Polley tailings dam failure for many First Nations in BC is best understood through an in-depth understanding of the importance of the Fraser River as a source of salmon for their communities. This work documents the unidentified and unfulfilled need to ameliorate the extent of emotional trauma prompted by real or perceived threat to salmon health, a threat exacerbated by a lack of reliable information from trusted sources in the aftermath of the breach. Relevant recommendations are also provided.
Research Papers