Criminal Charges for Mine Waste Dumping in Alaska

Mine wastewater is nasty stuff – so much so that this week, a mining company was criminally charged for dumping it into water.

Federal officials charged XS Platinum Inc. and five top employees with conspiring to dump mine waste into a Southwest Alaska salmon river.

According to the Alaska Daily News, employees failed to treat water used to process ore before dumping into ponds. The toxic soup, which would likely contain heavy metals and processing chemicals such as arsenic and cyanide, was then dumped into ponds and eventually leached into the Salmon River and Kuskowim Bay.

It's no surprise that such dumping should be illegal. When dumped into water, mine waste can be deadly to aquatic life, as its toxins accumulate in organisms, or it simply smothers them. In many parts of the world, toxins accumulate in fish consumed by humans. And once deposited into water, mine waste is almost impossible to control.

While XS Platinum is being indicted, other mining companies around the world routinely dump toxic mine wastewater into rivers, lakes and oceans. In our Troubled Waters report, we found that bigwigs such as Newmont and Barrick cumulatively dump some 180 million tonnes of mine waste into water bodies each year.

Just this week, the Norwegian government is considering a mining company proposal that would lead to the dumping of 6 million tonnes of mine waste into the FØrde Fjord for 50 years.

As shown by the Alaska indictment, such a practice could result in an arrest in the United States –which is not known for robust  environmental regulation. It's time the mining industry take heed and ban mine waste dumping into water bodies.