Red Dog Mine owner to pay fine for air quality violations in 2000

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
Teck Cominco Alaska Inc. has agreed to an $827,000 settlement with the state of Alaska over air quality violations at the company’s Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska.

According to state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown, $300,000 will be paid in cash, with $278,900 to be spent on environmental projects in the region and $248,100 suspended if the terms of the settlement are met.

Eighteen violations of permit emissions limits on diesel generators and improper reporting were found during a three-day audit of the mine and port facility in August 2000 by the DEC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies.

During the audit, DEC found that several of Cominco’s large diesel generators had exceeded allowable levels for several air pollutants. Teck Cominco was upgrading its generators at the time to lower nitrous oxide emissions.

The modifications led to unexpected increases in other emissions, and the company was working with the manufacturer on corrective actions at the time of the audit.

"We were conducting emission tests and sending reports to ADEC, but we realize now there should have been much better communication with the agency," said Bob Jacko, manager of the mine. All units have now been brought into compliance.

DEC said Teck Cominco failed to notify the agency when the emissions exceeded limits and continued to operate the equipment while attempting to bring emissions down to permit levels. The company had also failed to monitor certain other pieces of equipment, DEC said.

"Alaska’s permitting system places a large responsibility upon the company to self-monitor and report problems and immediately take corrective action. When the operator fails to do so, they also fail to meet the community’s and our expectations of operating in full compliance," Brown said.

"Teck Cominco has now fixed the problems and demonstrated its commitment to improve by instituting an environmental management system and dedicating more staff resources to tracking environmental compliance," Brown said.

Jim Kulas, Teck Cominco’s environmental manager, said that monitoring and reporting requirements have become increasingly complex in recent years.

"Our previous management tools did not track these requirements as effectively as needed," he said.

The $278,900 to be spent on environmental projects as part of the settlement will include $230,000 donated to the NANA Regional Subsistency Advisory Committee to help assess subsistence needs in the region and any impacts on subsistence of mine activities.

The company will also pay for a certified inspector to survey the drinking water system and water use practices in Kivalina, a village on the Chukchi Sea coast that is near where streams carrying water runoff from the mine area reach the ocean.

Air quality monitoring will also be done in Kivalina and Noatak, another village in the region, to measure breathable airborne particulate matter. Samples will be analyzed for any lead dust particles that may be carried by high altitude winds from lead-zinc mining operations at Red Dog.

The agreement also stipulates a number of safety measures for trucks carrying lead-zinc concentrate from the mine to the Chukchi Sea port, to reduce the potential for accidents and spills of concentrate.

12/30/2001 - 8:00pm