There are many frames that can be used to try to understand the disaster that unravelled last week at the Mount Polley mine in central British Columbia when a dam holding in a tailings pond burst and spilled millions of litres of toxic sludge into creeks and lakes. My aim here is to make such an attempt using the metaphor of embedded, concentric circles that draw on broader and broader contexts of the spill.
At the centre is the mine. The very first reports and company statements claimed that the dam holding the tailings pond at Mount Polley mine was functioning correctly – that it was business as usual, interrupted by a freak accident. It has, however, quickly become clear that there is a history of significant negligence at the mine, specifically to do with the dam. Engineers, workers, a former foreman and government inspectors had all warned about small failures and violations that could easily lead to disaster. This week proved to be the proverbial last straw.