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

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

A large provincial grant will make cycling and walking safer in Terrace. (File photo)
Large grant to make walking, cycling safer in Terrace

Pathway will connect old Skeena Bridge to the downtown

The Terrace municipal council in 1974. Front row, left to right, alderman E.F. Clift, Mayor Gordon Rowland, alderman H.M. Buncombe. Back row, left to right, alderman R.A. Green, alderman M.J.G. Duffus, alderman N. Jacques and alderman C.D. (Dave) Maroney. (City of Terrace photo)
Former Terrace mayor passes away

Gordon Rowland was mayor during the 1970s

Instructor and master artist Dempsey Bob (right) speaks to the crowd at the Terrace Art Gallery about the importance of cultural art on Feb. 7, 2020. Bob is a recipient of a 2021 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts Artistic Achievement Award. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Terrace resident Dempsey Bob wins national art award

Renowned Tahltan-Tlingit master carver one of eight people to receive GGArts Award

Hundreds of Valentine’s Day cards were delivered to Terraceview Lodge residents. (Submitted Photo/Carolyn DeFreitas)
Terraceview Lodge residents receive hundreds of Valentines

The Terrace Public Library delivered 373 Valentines cards to residents

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and health minister Adrian Dix wore pink shirts to showcase this year’s motto: “Lift each other up.” (Twitter/PinkShirtDay)
PHOTOS: B.C. celebs take a stand against bullying on Pink Shirt Day

‘We need to let young people know they are not alone and they can reach out to others for help’

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

UBC Okanagan students are among the most food insecure in Canada, according to a new study by UBC.
(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
UBC Okanagan students among most food insecure in Canada

42.3 per cent either can’t properly feed themselves, or are worried they will soon run out of money

Average response times for critical “purple” and “red” calls were between nine and 10 minutes Feb. 19 in Metro Vancouver, with only less critical “yellow” calls receiving an average response time of 45 minutes. The longer than usual delay was due to a combination of factors, BC Emergency Health Services said. (APBC image)
After a night of one-hour waits for ambulances, union goes public with concerns

B.C. Ambulance Service says high-priority calls were still 10 minutes or less

NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson in the outfit that got her sent home from school on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Contributed to Kamloops This Week)
B.C. teen in turtleneck, lace-edged dress sent home from school for ‘inappropriate’ outfit

NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson was told the lace on the garment made it look like a slip dress

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and former finance minister Carole James roll out “StrongerBC,” a $1.5 billion business support plan for COVID-19, eight months after the B.C. legislature approved the money and four days before a snap election call, Sept. 17, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 business grant fund still mostly unspent

$300 million pandemic assistance approved almost a year ago

Vancouver Canucks left wing Antoine Roussel (26) tries to get a shot past Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) during second period NHL action in Vancouver, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks cough up 3-0 lead, fall 4-3 to visiting Edmonton Oilers

Vancouver falls to 8-13-2 on the NHL season

Most Read