A coal mining operation in Sparwood, B.C., is shown on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. American lawmakers are increasingly concerned about pollution from British Columbia mines contaminating U-S waters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

United States increasingly concerned over pollution from B.C. mines

Monitoring stations near the mines have reported levels 50 times what’s recommended for aquatic health

The U.S. government is increasingly concerned with pollution from British Columbia mines following new research that shows contaminants in a river south of the border came from Canada.

In a letter obtained by The Canadian Press, the Environmental Protection Agency is demanding the provincial government hand over data explaining why Teck Resources coal mines in southern B.C are being allowed to exceed guidelines for a toxic heavy metal.

“The EPA … finds it unacceptable that the province has accepted (a treatment plan) that will allow seasonal exceedances of water quality objectives into the future,” says the Feb. 4 letter to B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman.

“An independent review could help facilitate U.S. stakeholder confidence in this new approach.”

Contamination from Teck’s mines in the rivers of the Elk River watershed is a long-standing problem. Coal mining releases selenium, an element which in large amounts is toxic to wildlife and humans.

Reports on selenium concentrations in area waterways show levels up to four times B.C.’s maximum for drinking water. Monitoring stations near the mines have reported levels 50 times what’s recommended for aquatic health.

READ MORE: Teck reducing Elk Valley work force by up to 50 per cent

Teck’s own research recently reported the near-disappearance of rare cutthroat trout from a 60-kilometre stretch of the Fording River downstream from the company’s four mines.

That water flows into the cross-border Koocanusa Reservoir. The reservoir drains into the Kootenai River, which flows about 200 kilometres across Montana and Idaho.

Research by the U.S. Geological Survey found selenium in that stretch of the Kootenai, but none in its American tributaries.

“The Kootenai River downstream of the Libby Dam is being affected by the Elk Valley mines,” says the EPA letter. “The study provides validated information that is concerning to U.S. agencies and our state and tribal partners.”

Agency spokesman Richard Mylott said the U.S. is also worried about a new provincially approved water treatment process.

“The effectiveness of this new technology … has not been demonstrated at the geographic scale and multi-decade time scale needed to abate pollution from Elk River coal mines,” he said in an email.

The U.S., he said, wants to judge for itself.

“(The agency) … concluded it would be important to have U.S. mine remediation technical experts independently review the likely effectiveness of this technology.”

In a written response, B.C. environment spokesman Jeremy Uppenborn said the province “is working with the U.S. EPA and Teck to provide the requested information.”

A Teck spokesman has said the company plans to spend more than $1 billion by 2024 to clean up its effluent. Doug Brown said selenium levels should start to drop by the end of this year.

Some scientists say there are similar concerns about other British Columbia mining developments. Several projects are being considered for the province’s northwest — including the KSM copper/gold mine, which would dig one of the largest holes and build one of the highest dams on Earth.

RED MORE: Teck mitigation plan changes cause concern in Elk Valley

In a recent letter in the journal Science, 22 Canadian and U.S. researchers warned that when it comes to mitigation, mining in Canada often overpromises and underdelivers. Peer review and transparent reporting are the exception, they wrote.

“Canada’s and B.C.’s environmental assessments have been criticized as being weak,” said Jonathon Moore, a signatory and professor at Simon Fraser University.

“They have been widely criticized as being ineffective and not properly accounting for risk.”

It’s time to reconsider how economic reward is evaluated against environmental risk, Moore said.

“We want those scales rebalanced and the way to rebalance that is through peer-reviewed science and processes that are inclusive and incorporate cross-border policies.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

mining

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Witset releases COVID-19 strategy following three confirmed cases

Plan implements strict measures to contain spread of the virus

Meet the 10-year-old girl who grew a pineapple in northern B.C.

Emily Atkins discovers it takes a lot of patience to grow tropical fruit in a temperate climate

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

Single-engine aircraft crashes near Telkwa

Two occupants of the plane sustained minor injuries and were transported to hospital

UPDATE: Search continues for Thomas (Tommy) Dennis missing from near Kitwanga

Tommy Dennis was last seen Sept 16 wearing blue jeans, black cap, rubber boots, grey checked sweater

Quirky Canadian comedy ‘Schitt’s Creek’ takes Emmys by storm with comedy sweep

Toronto-raised Daniel Levy and Ottawa-born Annie Murphy both got supporting actor nods

B.C.’s Chase Claypool catches first NFL touchdown pass

Abbotsford grad establishes new record for longest scrimmage TD by a Canadian

B.C. has highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita, federal data shows

B.C. currently has 1,803 active cases after weeks of COVID-19 spikes in the province

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

181 days gone: Family continues to look for man last seen in RCMP custody 6 months ago

Brandon Sakebow’s last known location was leaving Mission RCMP cell, police say; family has doubts

B.C. unveils new cannabis sales programs to help small, Indigenous growers

Government did not say how it will define small producers, but says nurseries will be included in the policy

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

Most Read