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Posted: July 25, 2020

Coal mining pollutes water and destroys our environment

Letter to the Editor

In this global climate crisis, when the world is wanting to reduce its CO2 emissions, it seems counter-intuitive to consider extending a coal mine in the Elk Valley (Castle Project).

Metallurgical coal is a cheap energy source for producing steel, but it is not the only energy that can be used to produce steel.  Hydrogen is being used in Sweden. In 2018 electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking comprised 29% of steel produced globally and aims to be a carbon neutral steel in the future.

Opportunities to transition into greener energy and related jobs, are all around us.

Selenium levels in the Upper Fording River resulted in it being closed to anglers.  A couple years ago, water tests throughout the Elk Valley found selenium levels at 50-70 parts/billion and in some cases higher than 100 parts/billion.  Macroinvertebrates (fish food) are nearly absent.  The cumulative effects of selenium in trout cause facial and spinal deformities and the absence of gill plates mean death for the fish.  Local fishing guides and their clients are alarmed and concerned by catching these frankenfish.

The B.C. government has been relatively silent on this issue, which is not reassuring to area residents or to our southern neighbours.  Dangerously high levels of selenium in the Elk River to Lake Koocanusa and into Montana are such that it has resulted in an international dispute over transboundary water pollution.

In 2018 two U.S. commissioners on the International Joint Commission released a letter stating Canada’s three representatives on the commission will not endorse a recent report that shows risks to aquatic life and humans from selenium pollution from five Teck Resources Ltd. coal mines.

In 2014, a report by A. Dennis Lemly, Ph.D., warned of “a total population collapse of sensitive species like the Westslope cutthroat trout.”  That was six years ago.  In March 2020 it was discovered that there was a 90% die off of Westslope trout in the upper Fording River in just two years.

More than 70% of juvenile fish have disappeared. Nitrates are also found in the upper Fording River at dangerous levels.  Calcite leaching out of waste rock is solidifying on the bottom of the Fording River and its tributaries, forming a concrete like layer, making it impossible for trout to feed on or lay eggs on the river bottom.

Private wells and Sparwood’s municipal well were closed due to levels of selenium higher than 10 parts/billion (in excess of what is considered safe for human consumption).  What

about the impacts on wildlife consuming the toxic water?

Even if the existing mines are closed, selenium will be leaching into our water for years.  There is no plan, or funds in escrow, to deal with these impending closures.  As with other abandoned or breached mines in B.C., the taxpayer deals with the mess left by industry.

Although the Province of B.C. is conducting an Environmental Assessment, many of us would like to see a federal review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (FR) undertaken.

Comment on the need for a federal review here.

In support of clean water for all.

Sharon Cross,

Cranbrook


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