Banner Photo: Britannia mine museum. (Credit: Bob Turner)

2020 Rating

2020 Rationale

Some improvements have been seen following wastewater treatment; however, exceedances of water quality guidelines are still occurring.

2017 Rating

2017 Rationale

After being deemed one of the most polluted areas of Howe Sound, aquatic life has started to return to the waters around the old Britannia Mine site. But despite ongoing remediation efforts at the site, metals continue to leach from unknown sources.

The following is an excerpt from the full updated article. Download the full 2020 article for all content and references.

Britannia Mine: contamination, remediation and monitoring

Authors: Jennifer Chapman, Research Assistant, Ocean Watch, Ocean Wise Research Institute

Amber Dearden, Research Assistant, Ocean Watch, Ocean Wise Research Institute

Reviewer: Juan Jose Alava, Research Associate, Institute for Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia

Excerpt from 2020 article

In the early 1900s, the former Britannia Mine was considered to be amongst the biggest sources of metal contamination into waterways in North America. Monitoring and reporting has continued around the Britannia Mine site.

Read the full article to see what else is happening.

Background: Foreshore near Britannia Mine. (Credit: Bob Turner)

What’s been done since 2017?

The table below reports on progress made on recommended actions from the previous 2017 article, where identified. Many of these require ongoing action.

2017 Action Action Taken
Individual and Organization Actions
Reach out to the community with updates on remediation in the Britannia Mine area. The community needs information about observed metal concentrations and any risk of harm they pose to human and marine life. Publication of a previous Ocean Watch report supports this action. All finalized reports for the Britannia Mine Remediation Project are submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategies for review and approval. These reports are publicly available through the B.C. Ministry of Environment’s Land Remediation Website.
Recycle all batteries.  The B.C.-wide provincial program supports this action, with drop-off areas in Squamish/Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, West Vancouver and Gibsons. Link here
Government Action and Policy
Track the state of the ecosystem health using a consistent ocean pollution indicator. Identify a consistently occurring, abundant biological indicator or bioindicator (i.e., an organism that can be used to monitor the state of pollution levels in the long term) to track metal contamination. The Golder reports include surveys of intertidal animals.
Increase public education campaigns designed to educate citizens about the impact of phosphates, chlorine and pesticides, and how to minimize their impact. Federal government sites support individual actions and access to additional resources. Links below.

Support local recycling and zero waste initiatives. The District of Squamish has developed a zero-waste strategy. Additionally, guidance for recycling items in B.C. is available from the Recycling Council of B.C. Links below.

What can you do?

A detailed overview of recommended actions relating to climate change is included in The path to zero carbon municipalities. In some cases, no progress was identified on previous recommended actions; these remain listed below. Additional actions marked as NEW also follow.

action-individual Individual and Organization Actions:

    • Sources of metals in wastewater are not all industrial. Be aware that what goes down your household drain or into the street gutter almost always ends up the ocean. Water treatment facilities can remove many contaminants, but plenty of dangerous chemicals that go down your drain will still end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans. Phosphates from detergents, chlorine from bleach, and the toxins in pesticides will all wreak havoc on fragile ecosystems once they leave your local sewage treatment plant. 
    • Do not put paint, solvents, pesticides or other chemicals down your drain.
    • Help reduce the environmental impacts of mining by:
      • Reducing your consumption of minerals; reducing consumption of consumer goods in general.
      • Taking transit rather than buying a new car.
      • Using recycled materials instead of mined materials and recycling all your metals (e.g., tin cans).

action-governmentGovernment Action and Policy:

    • Increase support of research focuses to assess levels of metal contamination in waterways. 
    • Protect salmon stocks against the negative health effects of copper to the salmon’s olfactory system similar to that established in Washington State (, which will benefit salmon recovery by reducing the amount of toxic metals entering the Salish Sea by hundreds of thousands of pounds each year.
    • Legislate against the use of phosphates in household products. 
    • NEW Fund studies examining relationships between contaminant concentrations and temperature.
    • NEW Potential for increased sensitivity of species to contaminants at higher temperatures will need to be considered in water quality guidelines.
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