Alaska: High on Toxic Releases

The U-S Environmental Protection Agency today reports that Alaska mining operations account for ninety percent of the toxic chemical releases in the four-state Pacific Northwest Region.

The 2010 Toxic Release Inventory shows a national increase from 2009 of sixteen percent nationwide.  The national trend had been dropping before that.  Regionally, all Northwest states had increases.  Alaska’s increased twenty percent, producing a total of 835-million pounds from thirty-two facilities in the state.

Kelly Huynh is the Toxic Release Inventory’s unit manager at the Seattle regional offices of the E-P-A.  She says Alaska’s toxic releases are the highest of any state in the nation — and there’s no single explanation for why the numbers have increased.

Some of the reasons might be that there’s increased production.  The economy is getting better so people are producing more.  Certainly for the mining industry there’s variations in ore composition which is one of the explanations for the increases there.  There could be changes in production processes.  And sometimes is just a matter of facilities’ finding better methods of calculating the amounts of material they’re releasing to the environment.

According to the report,  the largest source of release is the Red Dog Mine in the Northwest Arctic Borough near Kotzebue – with 777-million pounds of toxics annually going into the air, water and land.

Huynh says her office deals with the total amount of materials released – and does not go into questions of whether the toxic releases are within permit limits or are disposed of properly.  She does not regulate individual sites like the Red Dog.

They talked about changes in production as well as they were talking about changes in their ore composition, which is why their releases increased.  We haven’t talked about each facility to determine why they’ve increased from one year to another.  But for Red Dog that was their basic explanation of why.

Red Dog’s output includes fourteen difference toxic materials including more than 800-thousand pounds of arsenic,  three hundred million pounds of lead compounds and 450-million pounds of zinc compounds.  Other large facilities that release toxic chemicals include the Green’s Creek Mine in Juneau with 47-million pounds of materials,  and the Pogo Mine near Fairbanks with Seven Million pounds.

Mining is not the exclusive source of listed materials reported.   Eilson Air Force Base reported 110-thousand pounds and Fort Wainwright showed 122-thousand pounds of toxic material placed into landfills.

The State’s Department of Environmental Conservation issued a statement pointing out that the federal report was based on reports from various facilities and involved permitted releases into managed facilities or in accidental discharges.


Download Audio

ddonaldson (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.586.6948 | About Dave

Previous articleRedistricting Battle Goes To Trial In Fairbanks
Next articleHawker Says Oil Meeting A Good Beginning