I'd bet most folks in Juneau would be stunned to know that the second largest producer of toxic waste in Alaska is located in Juneau's backyard wilderness and national monument - Admiralty Island. Last Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Toxics Releases Inventory (TRI), its annual report on toxic chemicals released by U.S. industries.
For the second year in a row, the Kennecott Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island was the second largest producer of toxic waste in the state of Alaska. The TRI reported Kennecott released nearly 56 million pounds of toxic waste at the Greens Creek Mine, a more than 2.5 million pound increase since last year.
The TRI again revealed the mining industry as the nation's biggest polluter. Hardrock mining operations accounted for 17 of the top 20 toxic releasing facilities in the United States. Mining exposes arsenic, lead, zinc and other toxins that have been linked to cancer and other human health affects.
A mine's massive waste dumps also leach acids that harm fish, wildlife and stream water quality. Once mine waste starts leaching acids and heavy metals into the ground and surface water, it's very difficult to ever stop with existing technology.
This information comes out as the Forest Service begins the scoping process for Kennecott's plans to expand its tailings and waste rock dumps at the mine. These waste dumps are the main sources of toxic materials that Kennecott is required to report in the TRI. The Forest Service and the public need to take a hard look at the potential impacts of millions of additional pounds of toxic waste on Admiralty's fisheries, wildlife and water quality.
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council