This letter responds to Chris DeWitt's My Turn of Sept. 15, in which he argues in favor of the Kensington Mine. His argument misses the larger point: It is illegal, contrary to common sense, and sets a dangerous precedent to allow the dumping of mining waste into a pristine alpine lake. If it is allowed here, there is little to stop it happening to any lake or stream in Alaska or the Lower 48, no matter how important the lake or stream is for fishing or recreation.
Mr. DeWitt argues that the waste is not toxic. This is false and largely involves a debate over semantics. The gold-bearing rock will be processed with a variety of chemicals, such as potassium amyl xanthate and methyl isobutyl carbinol. It is also clear that the mine waste itself contains toxic substances. Tests conducted on waste exhibit high levels of copper, mercury, lead, as well as high pH. Of the two freshwater toxicity tests performed on the waste, one proved toxic and one was inconclusive. Federal and state regulators agree that the mining company's proposal to dispose 4.5 million tons of industrial mine waste into the lake will kill all, or nearly all, of the aquatic life in the lake.
The only toxicity issue for debate is whether, in 10-15 years after the mining company stops dumping its toxic waste into the lake, aquatic life will return. The mining company has offered theories as to why the lake will recover. But the truth is that no one can say for certain, and any scientist who claims otherwise is irresponsible and not credible. No lab test on a sample of tailings can predict with certainty the effects from the actual dumping of 4.5 million tons of this waste into a lake. There are serious risks involved, and at the forefront is the potential that the lake will be a toxic site indefinitely.
In the end, the debate over the long-term toxicity of the lake is one that was decided years ago. In 1972, with the passing of the Clean Water Act, we decided to stop taking these risks because we had been wrong way too many times. Rivers, lakes, and streams should not be used as dump sites for chemically processed, untreated, toxic waste.