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Mine ordered to plug leak

The company that owns a gold and copper mine in British Columbia where a tailings pond burst, sending a massive wave of water and potentially toxic silt into surrounding waterways, has been formally ordered to clean up the site and prevent more material from escaping.

But government officials acknowledged Wednesday they still didn't know exactly what spilled out or how the breach will affect surrounding lakes and rivers, where salmon spawn, locals get their drinking water and tourism operators take their customers.

A tailings pond dam at Imperial Metals' Mount Polley Mine, about 600 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, failed on Monday, sending 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of toxic silt into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.

The breach prompted a ban on drinking or bathing in water from surrounding lakes and river, which was still in effect on Wednesday, though the company has insisted the water in the tailings pond was safe and the solids that spilled out were "relatively benign."

The province's Environment Ministry announced Wednesday that the company received a "pollution abatement order" a day earlier.

Under the terms of the order, Mount Polley Mine was required immediately take steps to prevent more waste from escaping into nearby creeks and lakes. The company was also ordered to conduct an environmental assessment and submit a clean-up action plan by Wednesday, with a more detailed plan due by the end of next week.

The province also ordered the company to provide a detailed assessment of the materials that were released, including the anticipated impact on the environment.

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