ANCHORAGE - The company that carries ore from the Red Dog Mine in northwest Alaska is using a new $4.2 million fleet of trucks with tightly covered trailers to reduce the potential of spilling lead and zinc concentrate.
The old fleet, used by NANA-Lynden Logistics, had far less capacity and used tarps to cover the loads, said Dave Roper, NANA-Lynden president.
Each set of trailers costs about $250,000 and are made by Alpine Trailers, a Canadian company, Roper said.
Nine tractors and trailers were shipped to the Red Dog Mine site last summer, and have been phased in since last fall. A 10th tractor-trailer will be added next summer, Roper told the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
The company hauls ore concentrate for mine operator Teck Cominco Alaska Inc. along the 52-mile road from the Red Dog Mine to a port on the Chukchi Sea.
About 20 miles of the road runs within the Cape Krusenstern National Monument, and that portion has been scrutinized by the National Park Service. The agency last summer released a report saying high levels of zinc, lead and cadmium metals in Red Dog Mine concentrates, were found in mosses along the side of the haul road, presumably from trucking operations.
An Anchorage-based environmental group called for a closure of the road, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation denied the request, saying the levels were below those required to be cleaned up under state law.
Roper said the company was in the process of bringing the trucks and new trailers on line before the National Park Service issued its report. Red Dog officials have criticized the report, saying it did not get the appropriate peer review.
"We made the decision long before the concerns of the National Park Service of what may or may not be along the road," Roper said.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority owns the road and port that serve the Red Dog.
John Wood, AIDEA's project manager, said his agency thinks the source of the metals along the roadside is from dust that had collected on the trucks during loading and unloading operations.
The mine has been in operation for a dozen years, and some 1.3 million tons of concentrate were trucked last year along the haul road, said Wood, adding that he has never seen zinc and lead concentrate blowing out of a trailer.
"It's not to say in the early days it didn't happen, but in my nine years, I've never seen it happen," Wood said.
Trucks and trailers are now being washed and vacuumed, and a series of curtains and baffles have been added at buildings where the trucks load and unload to keep the dust from escaping, Wood said.
Teck Cominco has reported about 30 spills of ore concentrate over the years because of trucking accidents.
Four occurred in the past year, the company has said.
David Spirtes, superintendent of the Cape Krusenstern National Monument, said the National Park Service has been concerned about the accumulation of the heavy metals along the roadside for several years.