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16th April 2023
...continued from Part 1

The company’s water treatment facilities have also been plagued by delays — the reason for a recent $15,480,000 fine under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act — and unexpected water quality issues.

During start-up Teck’s West Line Creek treatment facility, for instance, inadvertently caused a fish kill event for which the company was ordered to pay $1.4 million in fines. The company has stated that the incident was related to the unintentional release of high levels of ammonia, nitrate, hydrogen sulfide and other contaminants.

The facility also initially released a more toxic form of selenium into the environment even as it reduced total selenium concentrations in treated water. The company has since addressed the issue with an additional layer of treatment.

Now it seems Teck may have had similar issues with another treatment facility as well, Sexton said after reviewing a July 2022 briefing note obtained by The Narwhal through a freedom of information request.

But it’s difficult to know for sure, Sexton warned. “We’re not getting the data to look at and draw our own scientific conclusions, we just have to infer from what Teck is reporting to the province,” she said.

The document, prepared for the deputy minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, notes the treatment facility, which relies on saturated rock fill technology, was operating at reduced capacity because elevated selenium levels had been detected in bottom-dwelling invertebrates downstream of the outflow.

Teck has touted its saturated rock fill technology as a “breakthrough in passive water treatment technology.” The technology, which uses existing mine infrastructure, is a less costly alternative to its tank based active water treatment facilities. Both treatment options rely on bacteria to treat selenium and nitrate.

For Petryshen, the issues mentioned in the briefing note underscore the fact that Teck’s saturated rock fill technology is still “in development.”

“It still needs more research and it’s not this sure-fire solution that maybe Teck or the province want it to be,” he said.

“They can’t just rely on this one new technique in the future,” he said. “They do need to be spending money on redesigning these waste rock dumps.”

Frustrations in Canada and U.S. over lack of Elk Valley pollution transparency

Teck did not respond to The Narwhal’s detailed questions about the issues with the saturated rock fill treatment facility, offering instead a general statement about efforts to address water quality.

The B.C. government did not respond to The Narwhal’s questions by publication. The Narwhal was directed to the Elk Valley Water Quality Hub, which notes the Elkview Operations saturated rock fill started treating water from Erickson Creek again in October “after this source was offline for maintenance and aquatic health investigation since April.”

There are longstanding concerns both in Canada and the U.S. about a lack of transparency around water pollution from the Elk Valley mines.

“We get this filtered, cherry-picked information that comes from the company, reporting to everyone how they’re doing in the watershed and if you ever want to look at anything more closely, none of that information is available,” Sexton said.

It’s one of the reasons behind longstanding calls for the issue to be referred to the International Joint Commission, a Canada-U.S. body established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to address disputes in transboundary watersheds. .

But internal government records show Teck and the B.C. government lobbied against involving the International Joint Commission.

The issue of water pollution from Teck’s mines recently garnered attention from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Joe Biden, who committed last month that the two countries would reach an agreement in principle this summer to reduce pollution in the watershed.

Petryshen and others want to see the International Joint Commission included in that agreement.

“B.C. hasn’t done a good job in dealing with this issue,” he said. “We do need someone else to actually get in charge of the reins.”