Opposition politicians raise questions about government’s handling of coal waste water spill that released dangerous chemicals – by Marty Klinkenberg (Edmonton Journal – November 15, 2013)


EDMONTON – The coal mine pond that leaked into the Athabasca River on Oct. 31 contained a range of potentially damaging compounds, including a suspected carcinogen called phenathrene.

According to the National Pollution Release Inventory, a database kept by Environment Canada, the impoundment at Sherritt International’s Obed Mountain mine also contained arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead and manganese.

Found in contaminated water and air, phenathrene is one of a group of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are known to cause tumours in laboratory animals.

Alberta Environment has refused to release information about the contents of the plume of waste water that stretches more than 100 kilometres down the Athabasca River, other than to say it contained high levels of suspended solids, including such things as clay, mud, shale and coal particles.

Department officials maintain the leak poses no health concerns, but have advised communities downstream not to draw water from the river. Results of tests disclosed Wednesday by Alberta’s chief medical officer show levels of mercury nine times higher than usual and concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons four times above allowed standards for drinking water.

“These are compounds that are naturally contained within coal, but it is not natural for them to be washed into a river in such a large amount,” said Ramsey Hart, the Canada program co-ordinator with Mining Watch Canada, an Ottawa-based environmental organization that posted a list of the compounds in the storage facility on its website late Thursday. “I have been shocked and appalled as I have read statements from Alberta’s government about what was contained within the pond.

“It seems to be an attempt to dramatically minimize the effects of the residue that was released.”

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