A recent study out of the U.S. has generated much discussion about the health of the Elk River (April 3 Beacon: “Watershed Concerns Surface”). As the operator of five steelmaking coal mines in the Elk Valley, which employ over 4,000 people who live in the region, we take environmental issues very seriously. Our employees raise their families in the region, fish in the river and recreate in the outdoors, and care deeply about ensuring the environment is protected.
We agree that the continued health of the Elk River is essential. That is why we have developed a valley-wide Selenium Management Action Plan, which is one of the largest water quality management programs of its kind in the world. The plan outlines significant measures to protect aquatic health while supporting sustainable mining activities in the Elk Valley. This includes investments by Teck over the next five years of up to $600 million on the installation of water diversion and treatment facilities, investments in research and development to improve selenium management and ongoing aquatic monitoring. We have completed construction of several water diversions to prevent water from contacting selenium at our operations, and construction is currently underway on our first water treatment plant at Line Creek Operations.
The fact is, Teck has been at the forefront of the selenium issue for many years. In 2010, we established a panel of external experts and other stakeholders to examine the selenium challenge and provide us with a roadmap for addressing this important issue. Today, our work is at the cutting edge of research and innovation around selenium management and we continue to consult and adapt our approach.
The valley-wide plan is designed to stabilize and reverse the selenium trend in the Elk River watershed. The selenium levels proposed in our plan are specifically tailored for the site-specific conditions and species of fish and other sensitive animals living in the Elk River watershed. The levels are based on extensive scientific research of the region and are designed to ensure fish and other aquatic life are protected. We are currently working with government and other communities of interest to finalize the levels in the plan. It is important to note, that same research indicates selenium at current levels in the river system is not a human health issue and is below levels that would affect populations of fish and other sensitive animals or plants. However, we recognize the need to address the increasing trend of selenium levels in order to protect both the ecological and economic health of the region.
It’s important to clarify that the “expansions” referenced in your article are not about expanding annual production, they are about the continued operation of existing mines.
At Teck, we are committed to responsible resource development. Our sustainability practices have been ranked in the top 2 percent of mining companies worldwide, and we were recently named the most sustainable company in Canada in the Global 100 most sustainable corporations ranking. We take the challenge of maintaining the health of the Elk River watershed very seriously and are focused on working with all stakeholders to implement solutions that protect both the ecological and economic health of the region.
Marcia Smith is the senior vice president of sustainability and external affairs at Teck.
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