On April 7 we attended an information session about selenium hosted by the Elk River Alliance in response to a recently published University of Montana report on their findings of high levels of selenium in the Elk River.
Selenium is a naturally occurring mineral which in small doses is essential to human life but amounts over the safe limit can cause birth defects and malformations in aquatic life and wildlife as well as toxic effects in humans. Selenium is leached out of the waste rock piles left from the coal mining process.
There were many surprises for us at this meeting. First and foremost was the fact that the selenium levels have been increasing at a rate of 13 per cent for 10 years and are at a safety tipping point. Teck Coal representatives attended the meeting to answer questions but our own Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Health whom we would have expected to provide arms length information could not attend the meeting because they were on a restricted travel budget imposed by the Provincial Government. The professionals in these departments must be extremely frustrated by our MPP’s loud endorsement of coal mining expansion despite the fact that fully effective safeguards have not been put in place to protect our health and the viability of other industries in our community, namely fly fishing. It was pointed out that present remedial methods have not been proven to be 100 per cent effective in reducing selenium to safe levels and other proposed methods are still experimental. Finally, not all drinking sources are being tested for selenium. For example, information obtained at the meeting suggests that Fernie Alpine Resort’s drinking water, which comes to a large extent from a well adjacent to the Elk River, is not regularly tested for selenium as it is not a regulatory requirement. We were advised that the City of Fernie is testing for selenium levels before commissioning their new wells.
We urge all citizens to inform themselves of this issue and become involved.
Jan and Helmut Kron