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Two old coal mines contaminate Rocky Mountain waters, study says

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Jan31,2024

Two old coal mines contaminate water Rockies, study says

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All three authors, all employed by Alberta Environment and Protected Areas at the time of the research , studied the Grassy Mountain and Tent Mountain sites in the southwest of the province. The Crowsnest Pass region was once a hub of the Canadian coal industry.


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A former coal mine in the Alberta Rockies is releasing a contaminant toxic to fish at rates more than 12 times higher than federal and provincial guidelines. The other mine, which is also no longer in operation, discharges water so rich in iron that it dyes the surrounding streams an orange color.

Our results reveal new evidence that coal mining activities in the Crowsnest River catchment have impacted downstream ecosystems for decades, the paper says (in English) (New window), written by three Alberta government scientists and published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

In their report, they raise the question of who is responsible for the sanitation of industrial sites once they are no longer in operation.

The two sites studied – Grassy Mountain and Tent Mountain – experienced significant, although intermittent, mining that ended a year ago just under 50.

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We learn in the article that the Tent Mountain operation, which is now the site of a renewable energy project, has piled rocks for decades next to ;a retention basin which supplies water to the Crowsnest River.

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Water passed through the rocks left by the mine, flowing into a pond, explains the scientific article.

This pond today presents #x27;now concentrations of selenium, a highly toxic element for fish that harms their ability to reproduce.

The former Grassy Mountain site, where a company hopes to resume coal mining (New window), raises fewer concerns about selenium because the rocks left behind are more dispersed, says the article.

However, in July 2022, scientists noticed a problem in a nearby stream.

During a brief 48-hour period, the water quality of Blairmore Creek changed markedly and the water turned a rusty orange color, the article states.

The team was thus able to follow the rusty water to the entrance of the old mine and measured its mineral content. iron, which was nearly 30 times higher than federal standards.

This discharge episode was likely due to an unknown hydrological (natural) factor, perhaps we read.

The Canadian Press contacted Alberta Environment on January 15 to request an interview with the authors, two of whom are still public sector employees. A spokesperson responded that the researchers were unavailable and asked for a list of questions to which the news agency did not get answers.

The third author, who now works in the United States, said he did not want to talk about his research for fear of legal reprisals from the province.

In Alberta, holders of a development permit for a site are responsible for past environmental consequences only.

For the federal branch, the law prohibits the discharge of substances harmful to fish into waters.

If enforcement officers find evidence of an alleged violation of the prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act pollution, they will take appropriate action, said Environment Canada spokesperson Nicole Allen.

The Tent Mountain site is currently covered by a permit held by Evolve Power. The company would not comment on how it plans to address selenium-related issues.

The Grassy Mountain site is currently the subject of coal prospecting by Northback Resources. The Australian company hopes to reopen the site for mining.

With information from The Canadian Press

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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