Neither Teck nor the B.C. government has denied the well-documented facts reiterated by the recent selenium study quoted in Wildsight and its partners’ media release on the poisoning of the Elk River. B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake reacted by the afternoon of our release stating that there would be no new coalmines approved in the Elk Valley until a valley-wide plan to manage the cumulative effects of selenium concentrations in the Elk River is developed. This is a welcome announcement.
Though the selenium problem has been growing for decades, British Columbia is still without legal limits to selenium pollution. Until a plan is in place, including enforceable obligations, it would be foolish to expand permitting and the poisoning of a world class river that runs through our communities.
Unfortunately, some of the response from less informed sources suggested that the selenium levels in the river that far exceed water quality guidelines for fish and humans could be tied to “unknown” background levels of selenium.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The recent study looked at water quality both above the mines and in the Flathead River—both of which run through coal bearing landscapes. These pristine waters showed selenium levels consistently well below water quality guidelines.
The challenge is to reverse the present trend of the increasing poisoning and put enforceable scientifically supported standards in place.
The balance between industrial development and environmental health must be re-established. This will not be achieved until Elk River water quality is again healthy for fish and appropriate environmental mitigation and compensation is effected.