FISH FACTOR: Pebble mine critics cite concerns over dust from operations

Editor's note: In response to the statement below that "little to no baseline data on soil or sediments is presented in the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," the Pebble Partnership supplied the following links to appendices in the DEIS containing the baseline soil and sediments data:

Appendix K3-14 discusses soils 

Appendix K3-18 discusses sediments 

Analytical chemistry database 

EBD Chapter on Trace Elements 

According to the Pebble Partnership, the appendices contain data from approximately 20,000 soil/sediment sample results collected from 150+ sites across several hundred square miles. 

ORIGINAL STORY

Bulldozers, blasters, excavators, vibrators, jaw crushers, drillers, graders, crushers, huge trucks and other heavy equipment are tools of the trade when building and operating large mines — and they all kick up a lot of dust.

In the case of the Pebble mine, the project is expected to generate 8,300 tons of so called fugitive dust in its annual mining operations. Another 5,700 tons will come from building the 83-mile main road to Cook Inlet, and the 35 times daily round trips trucking mineral concentrates will churn out 1,500 tons of road dust each year.

When it’s blowing in the wind, the dust will land on at least 1,500 acres of wetlands and 300 acres of lakes, ponds and streams, according to analyses done for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments that represent more than 80 percent of the region’s total population.

The dust will contain particles of the metals being mined, notably, copper, which when it leaches into water bodies, has been proven to be toxic to the olfactory system of salmon.

“Increases in copper concentrations of just 2 to 20 parts per billion, equivalent to two drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, have been shown to impact the critical sense of smell to salmon,” said Dr. Thomas Quinn, a professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. “Salmon use smell to identify predators, prey, mates, and kin. And importantly, they use sense of smell to return to their natal streams.”

But little to no baseline data on soil or sediments is presented in the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is currently undergoing public review.

“One of the most eye-opening things was, when you’re looking at fugitive dust, you’re looking at it from the perspective of human health and there are 10 or 11 hazardous air pollutants that you must look at when you’re permitting for air quality. Copper is not a human health hazard, so that was completely omitted from any mention in the discussion on dust,” said Kendra Zamzow, an environmental geochemist with the Center for Science in Public Participation.

Zamzow, who is from Chickaloon, has pored over thousands of supplemental documents to the DEIS called requests for information, or RFI, on behalf of the United Tribes.

“They have a table in the soils chapter that lists how much they expect in concentrations of things like arsenic or cadmium or mercury increases over time in soils based on loading from dust. But there is no mention of copper. And this is going to be a copper mine,” Zamzow said. “We know from the element analyses they’ve done on concentrations in the ore and the waste rock that copper will be one of the top two components in the rock, and probably the highest of the trace metals.

“And there’s absolutely no mention of the copper, which to me is really surprising because we know how copper is toxic to aquatic life, and everyone knows impacts to aquatic life is the entire reason that people are concerned about the Pebble mine.”

The copper will inevitably leach into water bodies where fish and aquatic life in general will be exposed.

“A lot of these particles could become available to the base of the food chain, the benthic feeders and zooplankton,” Zamzow said.

The copper-saturated dust would blow from the mining area, whereas road dust would likely have a different composition.

“The road dust is expected to impact a lot more waters than the mine site. But we don’t know to what extent concentrates could be making up part of the dust because it is not discussed at all. And mitigation mostly talks about watering the road,” Zamzow said.

According to a 2014 Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems at Bristol Bay by the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation corridor in the Kvichak River watershed would cross approximately 64 streams and rivers of which 55 are known or likely to support migrating and resident salmonids, including 20 streams designated as anadromous waters.

The corridor would run near Iliamna Lake and cross multiple tributary streams.

Lower Cook Inlet also will get impacts from the Pebble dust as Amakdedori Creek in Kamishak Bay will be the export terminal to ship out the mined materials.

Trucks from the mine site will transport the finely powdered concentrates to ice breaking barges for an 18 mile daily transit across Iliamna Lake, truck it on a 30-mile road to the coast, load it onto barges, then offload to a mothership 12 miles or more offshore.

“They’re going to take 38-ton shipping containers off of trucks, lower them into a ship’s hold and turn them upside down to dump out the concentrates. And it will have very high concentrations of copper,” Zamzow said, adding that the DEIS says the transports will include nearly 630,000 tons of materials per year.

Pebble’s mine site structures will include an open pit, a tailings storage facility, low grade ore and overburden stockpiles, quarry sites, water management ponds, milling and processing facilities, a 188-mile natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula to the site, a power plant, water treatment plants, camp facilities and storage facilities.

“Building and powering a mine like Pebble or Donlin is like adding a new city to Alaska,” said Zamzow.

“Dust is another example of how the Corps of Engineers has not done their job and is not holding Pebble up to a high standard of scientific rigor that Bristol Bay demands. And our decision makers are letting them,” said Alannah Hurley, United Tribes executive director.

The public comment period for the Pebble Mine has been extended to June 29. Find more information at www.pebbleprojecteis.com.

Expo No. 3

The third annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo is just weeks away as the region gears up for the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery. The event is a fundraiser for local childcare held in Naknek, the fishing hub for 10 major seafood processors and a fleet of nearly 1,000 boats.

“There was no child care whatsoever in the community,” said Sharon Thompson, Expo co-organizer and board president of Little Angels Childcare Academy.

The Expo so far has raised nearly $40,000 to open the doors and pay staff at the Academy, which received its state license last week to serve up to 15 children.

“It has been the reason that Little Angels could continue existing while we got through the licensing process,” Thompson said.

The Expo is on track to match or beat the 50 trade show vendors from last year. Other features include the premiere of The Wild, a film by Mark Titus and a visit from renowned sushi chef Taichi Kitamura who will be serving salmon dishes.

Two of the biggest Expo hits are the Fashion and Wearable Art Show followed by an Auction featuring Bristol Bay fisherman and auctioneer Kurt Olson. (Donations are needed for the auction.)

Invitations also have been sent to Alaska’s policy makers.

“Those who are in public service and our politicians are forming the policies that will affect everything from our industry to our way of life. So, we are putting invites out to Sen. (Lisa) Murkowski, Gov. (Michael J.) Dunleavy, and a lot of others because it is an important part of our show,” Thompson said.

The Expo theme this year is “feeding our families and fueling our dreams,” which Thompson said is exactly what the Bristol Bay salmon do.

“We are just so grateful because our wild salmon resource is supporting all of this,” she said. “In times of budget crises, they’re putting food on our table, food in our freezers, and the wild salmon has provided a child care facility.”

The Bristol Bay Fish Expo is set for June 9 and 10 at the Naknek school. See more at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com.

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Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Updated: 
05/10/2019 - 11:01am

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