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

Maple Ridge Museum hosts time travelling photo contest

Residents are asked to replica 10 old images from the museum archives – and have fun while doing it

Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge seniors honoured in novel ways for Seniors’ Week

Traditional gatherings are out, but local seniors groups wanted to mark the occasion

LETTER: Most take on healthcare to save lives, not get more money

Reader disturbed by call local person’s call for hazard pay during COVID

LETTER: Different view questions mandated social distancing

Look at the science behind herd immunity versus current approach to curtailing COVID

LETTER: Verbal attack on foreign workers disturbing

Racist and derogatory comments on social media disheartening and disappointing to Maple Ridge native

VIDEO: Injured bald eagle rescued in B.C. First Nations community

Bird suspected injured in fight, whisked off to Coquitlam rehab

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping The News to continue its mission to provide trusted local news

Human Rights Tribunal denies church’s request to toss out White Rock Pride Society’s complaint

Star of the Sea and White Rock Pride Society to go to Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Toronto Raptors’ Ujiri says conversations about racism can no longer be avoided

Thousands have protested Floyd’s death and repeated police killings of black men across the United States

B.C.’s Central Kootenay region declares state of emergency, issues evacuation orders

The evacuation alert covers all areas except the Cities of Castelgar and Nelson

‘I’m afraid’: Witnesses of wolf attack on senior near Prince Rupert worried about safety

Frank Russ shows where the unprovoked wolf attacked his father

Protesters prepare to rally against racism in front of Vancouver Art Gallery

Rally is in response to the deaths of black Americans and a Toronto woman

Protesters rally against anti-black, Indigenous racism in Toronto

Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence

Feds earmark $1.5M to support recovery of B.C., Indigenous tourism

B.C. money will be split between Vancouver Island and Indigenous tourism

Most Read