B.C. mining puts international treaty at risk: U.S. officials

U.S. representatives criticize Canada’s inaction on selenium pollution in transboundary waters

Canadian governments’ failure to address the ongoing flow of mining contaminants from Elk Valley coal mines into transboundary waters puts the country at risk of violating an international treaty, according to high-level U.S. officials.

The Free Press has obtained a letter penned by two U.S. representatives, including the chair of the U.S. section, on the International Joint Commission, a committee set up to prevent disputes between the two countries over transboundary waters.

Dated June 20, 2018, and addressed to the U.S. State Department Office of Canadian Affairs Director Cynthia Kierscht, the letter raises concerns about increasing levels of selenium in the Elk River-Lake Koocanusa-Kootenai River watersheds stemming from Teck Resources’ five coal mines in the Elk Valley.

The authors, IJC U.S. Section Chair Lana Pollack and U.S. Commissioner Rich Moy, believe this has implications for the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and Article IV which states “… boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted to the injury of health or property of the other”.

“The ongoing leaching of mining contaminants, including selenium, into an international river basin is a liability to Canada and the U.S.,” they wrote.

“The U.S. Commissioners firmly agree with the 2016 B.C. Auditor General’s assessment that B.C.’s negligence to address the mining impacts puts Canada at risk of violating Article IV of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.”

The letter also criticizes Canada’s reluctance to acknowledge the size of the issue, which has led to an impasse on a new report investigating the human health impacts of selenium in aquatic systems.

With a photo of the Elk River on the cover, the report reviews the current state of knowledge for human health and selenium, and was prepared by the IJC’s Health Professionals Advisory Board over six years.

It found that people relying on subsistence fish harvest may have a substantially higher exposure to selenium than recreational fishers in areas such as the Elk Valley, where selenium concentrations are increasing.

The report recommends sharing health, ecological and environmental data between the two countries to ensure selenium-safe watersheds and to protect human health.

According to the U.S. Commissioners, their Canadian colleagues are unwilling to endorse the report, preferring an earlier version of the report that is “weak on addressing the recently defined impacts of selenium”.

“Selenium is a significant environmental and human health concern in the Elk/Koocanusa drainage in both countries,” reads the letter.

“… selenium concentrations are already four times higher than B.C.’s own drinking water guideline in the Fording River and Line Creek.

“Yet, B.C. still issued mine expansions to a number of Teck’s existing mines.”

The letter brings to light recent exceedances at the Koocanusa reservoir and data from Teck that shows selenium levels are now 70 times higher in the Elk and Fording Rivers as compared to the Flathead.

It also refers to the closure of Well #3 in the District of Sparwood and a number of private wells earlier this year due to elevated selenium levels, as well as the 2014 fish kill at Teck’s Line Creek Operations near Elkford, which led to environmental charges against Teck.

The U.S. Commissioners said it was “reasonably clear” the mining company would have difficulty meeting its commitments in the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan after “numerous” delays in the construction of active water treatment plants.

“Selenium will continue to pollute the Elk and Kootenai transboundary waters for hundreds of years if no viable solution is found,” reads the letter.

“There is a question as to whether the technology even exists to remove selenium from large volumes of flowing water and there is no viable solution to remove selenium from groundwater.”

More to come.

Just Posted

Trail bus line readies to takeover Kelowna run

Silver City Stage Lines must have a booking site up by Sept. 30; two vehicles activated by Oct. 26

More burning prohibitions rescinded in southeast B.C.

Category 2 and 3 fires will be permitted in Southeast Fire Centre as of 1p.m. on Wednesday.

Municipal spending outpaces population growth 4-fold in B.C.: report

Canadian Federation of Independent Business has released its annual operational spending report

Cops For Kids’ southeast B.C. tour rolls on

Annual RCMP fundraiser will see 34 cyclists ride 1,000 kilometres raising funds

B.C. parents leery of HPV cervical cancer vaccine

Provincial registration uptake among lowest in Canada

AFN national chief suggests moving Trans Mountain pipeline route

Perry Bellegarde said many Indigenous communities believe in the need to diversify export markets

Assault charge withdrawn vs. ex-Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna

Former Toronto play agrees to peace bond

UPDATED: Bill Cosby gets 3-10 years in prison for sexual assault

Judge also declared the disgraced comedian a ‘sexually violent predator’

B.C. making progress on senior care staffing, Adrian Dix says

Minister aims to meet residential care provincial standard by 2021

B.C. realtor receives racist letter touching on ‘empty homes’

The letter has been met with condemnation of the racism after Winnie Wu posted it online

60+ surrendered cats in Okanagan get people working together

Community comes together to help surrendered cats at Penticton SPCA

U.S. worker charged after video shows him spitting on customer’s pizza

Jaylon Kerley of Detroit is charged with a felony count of food law violations

Andrew Weaver congratulates New Brunswick on electing first Green caucus

Election win means there are now three provincial Green Party caucuses in Canada

Around the BCHL: Merritt’s Matthew Kopperud nets Sun Devil scholarship

Around the BCHL is a look at the BCHL and goings-on throughout the junior A world.

Most Read