Alaska at top of nat'l list of toxic producers

State's largest mine creates five times the material of any other

Posted: Friday, March 23, 2007

Alaska again led the nation in release of toxic chemicals as measured by weight, with Greens Creek Mine listed No. 7 in the country by federal regulators in a report covering 2005.

The Admiralty Island mine released about 43.4 million pounds of toxic metals, according to the Toxics Release Inventory issued Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The program requires various industries to report releases and waste management activities for more than 650 chemicals.

Alaska's largest mine, the Red Dog Mine, retained its place as No. 1, releasing five times the amount of toxic materials of any other mine in the country.

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It is the largest zinc mine in the world, and zinc is listed as a toxic chemical by the EPA.

It reported 498.7 million pounds of toxic materials from the Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska.

"This information is too often misconstrued to be pollution and evidence of poor environmental practice, and that is not the case," said Jim Kulas, the environmental superintendent for Teck Cominco Alaska, owner and operator of the Red Dog.

"These are not true releases to the environment. The minerals are within rock that we have simply moved from one place to another," he said. "The rock is placed in piles that are permitted, monitored and all their runoff is collected."

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Rob Cadmus, mining and water quality expert at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, agreed in part.

"The big issue is how safe are those facilities that are created (to put the mine tailings)?" he said.

Red Dog, near Kotzebue, is operated by Teck Cominco under an agreement with the NANA Regional Corp., a Native Alaska corporation. Greens Creek is primarily owned by Kennecott Mineral Co., headquartered in Salt Lake City.

The permitted disposal of waste rock and tailings accounted for 90 percent of Alaska's toxic releases, the report said.

Waste rock contains metals such as lead in concentrations that are too low to process economically, but that could cause health or environmental damage if released into the environment.

In addition to mining, other industrial classifications that must report to EPA include chemical manufacturers, electric utilities, federal facilities such as military bases, food processors, oil refineries, solvent recovery services, commercial hazardous waste treatment operators and petroleum bulk terminals.

"It is important to make this information available to Alaskans. The public wants to know what wastes are being generated, and managed or discharged, in our state. It is also important to understand that the bulk of the reported wastes are being managed in permitted, engineered facilities," said Larry Hartig, commissioner of the state's Department of Environmental Conservation.

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