Letter to the Trustees of Alaska
OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER
July 13, 2001
I have received and considered the petition submitted by you on June 22 to issue an emergency order to halt the transport of ore on the Red Dog Mine haul road. I have also reviewed the U.S. Park Service report that you attached to your petition. For the reasons outlined below, that petition is hereby denied. While the documented metals contamination adjacent to the Red Dog Mine haul road is certainly a serious issue that requires the department’s close attention, I cannot conclude that the facts create a situation that warrants a declaration of an emergency under Alaska Statute 46.03.865.
It is reasonable to conclude from the Park Service report that at least some of the metals found along the road have come, in some manner, from Cominco’s ore trucks. As you note in your petition, it is less clear how the ore escapes from the trucks to the adjacent tundra. While there have been several accidents over the years in which ore trucks spilled their loads, none of these known spill sites are within a mile of the sampling transects used by the Park Service. Since elevated metals are present at all transects, it seems more likely that they came not from spills, but from fugitive ore dust, either from the tarp-covered loads or from the trucks themselves.
We have learned from Cominco representatives that they are implementing major improvements in their ore transport operations (July 12, 2001 letter enclosed). Most notably, they are acquiring new fully enclosed side-dump trailers and implementing truck decontamination procedures at both the port and mine sites. The steps Cominco is taking to control truck related fugitive dust emissions should greatly reduce, if not eliminate additional metals contamination from truck traffic to lands adjacent to the haul road.
Even without any further contribution, the existing metals levels reported by the Park Service must be addressed. The State of Alaska Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Control Regulations at Title 18 AAC 75 establish "standards to determine the necessity for and degree of cleanup required to protect human health, safety, and welfare, and the environment at a site where a hazardous substance is located." As shown in the following table, the levels of lead, zinc or cadmium found in the soil, mosses and dust on vegetation adjacent to the haul road by the Park Service did not exceed Alaska’s cleanup levels.
The Department of Health and Social Services conducted public health studies in the early 1990s to look at the potential health risks posed by lead ore exposure from the Red Dog Mine. In addition, in 1993, Battelle conducted a study of Red Dog Mine lead ore concentrate for the National Toxicology Program. This study was designed to examine the biological availability of several lead sulfide ores, including the Cominco Red Dog ore concentrate. The Red Dog ore concentrate in its unsmelted chemical form had lower bioavailability than other forms of lead. The lower bioavailability of the lead ore concentrate and the results of past public health studies of lead ore exposure indicate that there is no imminent threat to public health of local residents or mine workers. Because of the high level of concern and the tremendous complexity of the issues, we fully support continued careful exploration of all of these issues in partnership with all stakeholders.
The department takes the Park Service report very seriously, and we will follow up on its findings with both Cominco and with the Park Service. I also propose that we convene a meeting of all the stakeholders, including representatives of Kivalina and NANA Development Corp. in the near future, to discuss the needs for additional assessments and the best path forward to resolve the issue of metals contamination along the road. My staff will be in touch with you to arrange the timing and logistics of such a meeting.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about this matter, please contact Tom Chapple, the Director of our Air and Water Quality Division, at 907 269-7686. Thank you for your letter and continued concern about protecting Alaska’s environment.
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