News Feature | October 23, 2017

Montana Water Quality Researchers Slap Canadian Coal Operation With $1.8 Million Fine

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


As an area of Montana struggles with dangerous water contamination, it has taken action against a polluter across the border.

A court in British Columbia has ordered Teck Resources Ltd., a Canadian mining firm, to pay a $1.4 million fine levied by American water quality researchers. The fine stems from issues back in 2014 at a Teck facility about 80 miles north of Eureka, MT.

“The mine’s water treatment facility was cited for three releases of contaminated water that killed bull and cutthroat trout in Line Creek,” per the Missoulian. “The pollution releases included dangerous amounts of nitrates and selenium, a mining byproduct that in large doses can cause deformities, reproductive damage or death to fish.”

While the damage seems to have been limited to source water quality and wildlife, stopping short of damaging human health through drinking water, it still represents a major wastewater violation with far-ranging impacts, including algal bloom.

“Flathead Lake Biological station bull trout research aquatic ecologist Clint Muhlfeld said the Elk River has already shown changes in its chemistry related to mine waste,” the Missoulian reported. “The addition of nitrates act like a fertilizer, which has resulted in algae bloom, and suppressed native stonefly insect populations.”

The large fine seems to have sent the necessary message to Teck, which claims it will modify its practices to keep an incident like this from happening again. For instance, it has installed an effluent buffer pond.

“From the outset we took full responsibility for this incident and recognize the that we need to do better,” Robin Sheremeta, Teck senior vice president for coal, said in a statement, per the Missoulian. “Following this occurrence in 2014, we undertook a full investigation and implemented a number of steps to ensure this does not happen again.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: “Elk River Valley, Montana," Lamar White, 2016, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: