Federal regulators withdrew approval in late September for a permit that would allow the release of treated wastewater from Alaska’s largest mine into waterways near the village of Kivalina, a Northwest Alaska village located 66 miles downstream from the mine.
The Environmental Protection Agency says the five-year wastewater discharge permit it issued in March was partly flawed because it used old data on water use and dust emissions at the Red Dog zinc-lead mine in northwest Alaska.
An EPA internal review board in Washington, D.C. also dismissed an appeal of the permit by some Kivalina residents Oct. 10 because the agency is drafting a new discharge permit for the mine
Red Dog officials said EPA’s decision to revoke the permit is a blow to the mine’s expansion plans and adds uncertainty to the operation’s future.
Teck Cominco, the mine’s operator, says the main ore body at the 17-year-old mine will be tapped out by 2012, and the permit is needed in order to expand to an adjacent ore body that could extend operations until 2030.
Some Kivalina residents have been fighting the mine for years over water safety issues and said they were pleased with the decision.
Treated water from the mine is released into tributaries of the Wulik River, which provides drinking water for Kivalina.
As long as the mine discharges its treated waste into the village drinking water supply, Kivalina residents will fear for their health, said deputy mayor Enoch Adams.
“It’s a huge sticking point in a lot of people’s minds,” he said.
Wulik River cleaner than everTeck Cominco has repeatedly assured Kivalina residents that continuous monitoring of the village’s drinking water, conducted by federal and state agencies including the Alaska Division of Public Health, since 2002 has found no unacceptable results.
Ironically, the water downstream from Red Dog is actually cleaner today than it was before the mine started production 17 years ago, according to the Division of Mining, Land & Water in the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
The natural runoff from the undeveloped Red Dog zinc and lead deposit put more pollution into the water before than the wastewater treatment process does now, state officials say. However, the mine uses chemicals such as calcium and magnesium in the treatment process, and they result in a higher amount of total dissolved solids, or “TDS,” in the water, they add.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.