Pollution found in U.S. river downstream of Canadian mines

CTV News reports: BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. government scientists found high levels of pollution that can be toxic to fish, aquatic insects and the birds that feed on them in a river that flows into Montana and Idaho from a coal mining region of Canada, officials said Monday.

Elevated levels of selenium were found in fish and fish eggs from the Kootenai River downstream of Lake Koocanusa.

The lake straddles the Canada border in northwestern Montana and southern British Columbia, and feeds into the Kootenai before the water flows downstream to Idaho.

Selenium is a naturally occurring mineral that can be released into rivers and streams during surface mining. It was absent from water samples taken from tributaries of the Kootenai downstream of the lake, indicating it’s coming from mining-related sources upstream, Environmental Protection Agency hydrologist Jason Gildea said.

No human health impacts were expected from the levels detected in the Kootenai.

High levels of selenium can kill animals and cause them reproductive problems. Animals that lay eggs are most at risk because the pollution accumulates in eggs.

Kent Karemaker, a spokesman for British Columbia’s mining agency, said he had not seen the pollution study and could not immediately offer a response. Regulators from the province participate in a cross-border monitoring group with their counterparts from Montana.

Concern about pollution from mines in British Columbia has been building for years.

U.S. senators from Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Washington state said in a June letter to British Columbia’s leader that Canadian regulators need to do more to prevent mining waste from fouling downstream U.S. waterways.

In July, representatives of towns and tribes in the region said the pollution threatens the livelihoods of those who depend on fishing and other forms of recreation.

Selenium concentrations in water entering Lake Koocanusa have been increasing for decades, but the pollution had not previously been found at high levels in the Kootenai River.

“We weren’t expecting to find elevated levels” in the river’s fish, Gildea said. “To see this result indicates that something is going on and we’re a little concerned about it.”

Earlier studies showed the pollution in Lake Koocanusa comes coal mining in the Elk Valley of British Columbia.

The latest findings come from a joint study by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and wildlife agencies in the Montana and Idaho. More than 140 fish were evaluated, and high levels of selenium were found in six mountain whitefish and one redside shiner.

Elevated levels of mercury were found in three fish sampled, but Gildea said that most likely was deposited by air pollution and not mining.

Further studies are needed but whether they happen will depend on funding, said Ayn Schmit, an EPA water policy adviser.

Source: CTV News

One Reply to “Pollution found in U.S. river downstream of Canadian mines”

  1. Money, money, money, money….money!

    That’s right. It all boils down to the almighty buck. Man’s insatiable desire for wealth at all costs. Decimating the environment while on a head long course to destroying not only other life forms, but poisoning himself.

    After perusing the internet, I have come up with some additional information that is quite revealing.
    https://thenarwhal.ca/for-decades-b-c-failed-to-address-selenium-pollution-in-the-elk-valley-now-no-one-knows-how-to-stop-it/

    It doesn’t stop there. Global News reports :

    United States officials are accusing their Canadian counterparts of sitting on damning new data about toxic chemicals from southern British Columbia coal mines in water shared by both countries.

    In a letter to the U.S. State Department, Americans on the International Joint Commission say Canadian members are blocking the release of information on contaminants that are many times above guideline levels. The B.C. dispute, brewing for decades, burst open in June when the commission’s two Canadian members refused to endorse a report on selenium in the Elk River watershed just north of the border.

    Trace amounts of selenium are healthy, but large doses can lead to gastrointestinal disorders, nerve damage, cirrhosis of the liver and even death in humans. In fish, it causes reproductive failure. The report documents increasing selenium in Canadian water flowing into the transboundary Koocanusa reservoir.

    All five waterways in the report have selenium levels at the maximum or above B.C.’s drinking water guidelines. Two are four times higher. The study says the level of selenium in the Elk and Fording rivers is 70 times that in the Flathead River, which doesn’t get runoff from five coal mines operated by Teck Resources.

    In May, Teck reported selenium levels in Koocanusa exceeded both human health and aquatic life guidelines. “High selenium concentrations are resulting in deformities and reproductive failure in trout and increasing fish mortality of up to 50 per cent in some portions of the Elk and Fording watersheds,” the letter says.

    Things are getting worse, said Erin Sexton, a researcher at the University of Montana. Elk River stations near the mines are reporting levels 50 times what’s recommended for aquatic health. Near the city of Fernie, B.C., readings are 10 times that level.

    Commission spokeswoman Sarah Lobrichon said the report is still being reviewed by commissioners on both sides. “They’re in deliberations to consider how this new information … can complement the work of the advisory board.” Until all agree, the report won’t go to either government, Lobrichon said. The Americans say the delay is deliberate.

    Teck built a water treatment plant in 2014, but its operation has been intermittent and it is currently closed. It was converting selenium into a form more easily absorbed by plants and animals. Teck Resources said in a statement that it does extensive water testing. It said selenium levels “are appropriate and protective of aquatic life” and that fish populations haven’t been affected.

    The company said it’s following a water quality plan and will spend up to $900 million over the next five years on new treatment plants. The mines employ 4,000 workers. An Environment Canada spokesman said new coal mine regulations are coming for toxins such as selenium. Mark Johnson said Teck was fined $1.4 million in 2017 over selenium discharges. The company is being investigated for further violations.

    “Nobody’s happy that there’s selenium in excess of water quality guidelines,” said Douglas Hill of B.C.’s Environment Department. “But we’re reasonably satisfied that Teck’s making best efforts to address the problem.” Hill said Teck is obliged to stabilize selenium levels by the end of the decade. After that, levels are to start dropping. Adapting existing technology to the large area and rugged landscape of Teck’s operations is challenging.

    Sexton said selenium in some fish from the Koocanusa increased 20 to 70 per cent between 2008 and 2013. Montana officials surveyed fish in March for a five-year update. Most people anticipate there’s going to be another jump. The letter says selenium will continue to leach into rivers and groundwater for centuries if no solution is found.

    “It’s financial, it’s economic, but to me it’s a poor choice to keep placing waste rock every day in that watershed and creating more surface area to leach into the river,” said Sexton. There’s not a consideration being made for the fish, the water or the people downstream.

    So, let me get back to what I first stated in my opening monologue. “It all boils down to the almighty buck and man’s insatiable desire for wealth at all costs”. As is apparent, we have a Canadian company and government officials sitting on their collective backsides deliberately ignoring the facts, dilly-dallying and manipulating the data as per the “Salmon Shenanigans” we have heard tell about. Hey how about a selfie while you are all looking exceptionally busy in your lame duck approach to dummy down the uproar.

    If ignorance is bliss as they say, it is also quite DEADLY !

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