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Alaska's Red Dog Mine Required to Reduce Pollutant Discharges

Release Date: 7/30/1998
Contact Information: Kathleen Collins
(206) 553-2108

July 30, 1998 - - - - - - - - - - - 98-41

The Red Dog mine in northwest Alaska  --  the largest lead and zinc mine in the world  --  is being required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the toxic metals in the effluent it discharges to an Alaskan river system which is the spawning ground for important marine and fresh-water fisheries.

The tightened limits on the metals are among the key provisions of a new wastewater discharge permit EPA has issued to the Red Dog mine.  The new permit was announced today by Chuck Clarke, EPA's Northwest regional administrator in Seattle.

Clarke said the effluent limits in the new Red Dog permit will prevent violations of Alaska's water quality standards. Extensive field surveys by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game suggest that the new permit limits will ensure that the mine's waste water will not harm fish or other aquatic life in the area.

"The purpose of the permit is to protect the biological community and fish populations of the Wulik River and the Chukchi Sea," Clarke said.

Although Red Dog's new permit authorizes the mine to discharge twice as much effluent as allowed under the mine's previous permit from EPA, the discharges of toxic metals will be less.  The new permit establishes levels in the Red Dog effluent for mercury, lead, zinc and other toxic metals that are small fractions of the limits in Red Dog's old permit.  The permit limits for lead have been reduced by 84 percent; permit limits for all other metals have been cut by more than 90 percent.

Clarke said that Red Dog has already modified and expanded its treatment process to improve the removal of certain metals. Further improvements will be necessary, most notably with regard to selenium.

According to Clarke, a major environmental safeguard included in the permit is the requirement that Red Dog conduct ongoing surveys of fish populations to make sure there is no decline in their numbers, to perform bioassays on fish tissue to check for any increase in metals, and to monitor macroinvertebrates and other indicators that would offer signs of possible trouble for aquatic life.

The Red Dog mine is located above the Arctic Circle, about 90 miles north of Kotzebue and 50 miles inland from the Chukchi Sea on land that is owned by the NANA Regional Corporation.  The land is leased to Cominco Alaska, the operators of the mine.  The Red Dog mine is said to produce five percent of the world's zinc supply.

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