New tests released today show that selenium pollution has substantially increased in trout downstream from Simplot’s Smoky Canyon Mine, with levels four times the criteria established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prevent defects and reproductive failure in fish. Crow Creek Conservation Alliance and Earthworks released the results as they’re calling upon Simplot and federal agencies to accelerate clean-up and prevent future pollution as required by the mine’s operating permit.
“It is troubling to see Simplot so severely pollute our streams,” said Pete Riede, a private landowner along Crow Creek and member of the Crow Creek Conservation Alliance. “The pollution just gets worse and worse,” he continued, “We want the company to be a good neighbor and stop dragging its heels on pollution cleanup and prevention.”
Smoky Canyon is an active phosphate mine in southeastern Idaho. Selenium pollution from the mine has been a known problem since the late 1990s, and a portion of the mine has so polluted groundwater and surface water that federal agencies are using their authority under CERCLA (commonly referred to as the Superfund Program) to require clean-up. Yet, efforts to put in place technology to treat existing pollution and prevent new pollution have been repeatedly delayed — even as the mine has expanded.
Construction of a water treatment facility to clean up water pollution in Sage Creek and Crow Creek is now underway, but a final plan has yet to be completed. Tests of the mine’s proposed cover system have failed to meet the criteria established by the BLM in its 2008 mine expansion approval as necessary to protect water resources.
“It’s been eight years since the mine expansion was approved, yet there’s still no proven cover system to prevent future water pollution, ” said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks. “Simplot must demonstrate that its current operations won’t cause more pollution down the road, and the BLM must hold them to it,” she continued.
The Crow Creek Conservation Alliance and Earthworks conducted fish tissue sampling in Fall 2016, with the assistance of a fisheries biologist. The lab results have just been released. Brown trout and Yellowstone Cutthroat trout collected from Sage Creek and Crow Creek downstream of the mine contained selenium concentrations considerably higher than the 8.2 mg/kg nation-wide criteria recommended by the EPA. Once released, selenium can persist in the environment for a very long period of time.
The most recent samples in Sage Creek (2016) were almost 4 times the EPA criteria and were over 2.5 times the EPA criteria in Crow Creek downstream from Sage Creek. Selenium levels have increased significantly in trout in Sage Creek since 2008 and have increased significantly in Crow Creek downstream from Sage Creek since 2010.