Well sampling finds elevated selenium levels

EXCLUSIVE - Teck Resources forced to provide bottled water to users of four private wells

Teck Resources has been forced to provide bottled drinking water to users of four private wells in the Elk Valley after testing revealed selenium levels above the provincial water guideline.

The Canadian mining giant operates five steelmaking coal mines in the region and was last year fined nearly $1.5 million for polluting a tributary of the Elk River.

Last week, Teck issued a public notice advising surface and shallow groundwater users along the Fording and Elk rivers that concentrations of some mine-related constituents may be elevated.

Initial results showed six of the 92 wells sampled between 2014-17 “slightly exceeded” the provincial water guideline for selenium (0.01mg/L).

According to the B.C. Ministry of Environment, selenium is an essential trace element necessary for cellular function in many organisms, however, excessive amounts may result in toxic effects such as deformities and increased mortality in fish populations.

In a statement issued to The Free Press, Teck revised the number of affected wells down to four private wells and Well #3 at the District of Sparwood.

It said while these wells slightly exceeded the provincial water guideline for selenium, they remained “well below” the Health Canada guideline of 0.05mg/L.

“With respect to the private wells, Teck has provided alternative bottled drinking water,” read the statement.

“One well previously thought to be over guideline has now been confirmed as being below guideline.”

“Teck has been working closely with the District of Sparwood since 2014 to monitor Well #3, which is taken offline during periods when levels exceed guideline.

“Teck is working with the District on a replacement well, which is expected to be completed later this year.”

The mining company is in the process of implementing the Elk River Water Quality Plan, which aims to stabilize and reverse the trend of selenium and other mining-related substances in the watershed.

In October 2014, Environment Canada officers investigating the deaths of 45 fish near one of Teck’s five mines found waste water from a Teck water treatment plant, put in place to deal with selenium pollution, was entering Line Creek.

Last year, Teck pleaded guilty to violating the federal Fisheries Act and was ordered to pay $1.425 million to restore fish habitat in the Elk Valley.

The Elk River Alliance has called on the mining company to make its well sampling program more transparent.

“The current information does not make clear whether selenium in the five wells exceeded the BCWQG (B.C. Water Quality Guidelines) every year between 2014-2017, nor how ‘slight’ the exceedances were,” said a spokeswoman.

“It is also unclear whether the five wells are all located close to Teck operations.

“The Elk River Alliance will be following up with Teck to determine the location of the wells with exceedances, the actual selenium concentrations in the five wells relative to the BCWQG, whether the wells are currently drinking water sources and, if so, what Teck is doing to address the exceedances, however ‘slight’.”

The ERA said selenium in the watershed was a complex issue and challenging to address.

“We expect Teck to continue to make changes to their current mining operations to reduce selenium loadings to the Elk River system and to apply the results of research to the management of the large areas of waste rock from previous mining, which will otherwise continue to leach selenium into the watershed for years to come,” said a spokeswoman.

The ERA has invited residents share their views on water resources via 250-423-3322 or info@elkriveralliance.ca.

In summary:

– Six of 92 wells sampled between 2014-17 were found to exceed the provincial water guideline for selenium (0.01mg/L). Teck has revised the number of affected wells to four private wells and Well #3 in Sparwood.

– Selenium is an essential trace element necessary for cellular function in many organisms, however, excessive amounts may result in toxic effects such deformities and increased mortality in fish populations.

– While the affected wells are above the provincial water guideline for selenium, Teck says they are “well below” the Health Canada guideline of 0.05mg/L.

– Teck has provided bottled drinking water to affected private well users and has been working with the District of Sparwood since 2014 to monitor Well #3, which is taken offline during periods when levels exceed guideline.

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