Two-Headed Trout Near Phosphate Mine Spark Pollution Alarm in Idaho

Friday, February 24, 2012
Two-headed fish near phosphate mine in Idaho
J.R. Simplot Company is coming under scrutiny from state and federal environmental officials after  two-headed fish were found in waters near the operator’s mine in Idaho.
The deformed trout were discovered in a creek polluted with selenium runoff from Simplot’s Smoky Canyon Mine in Caribou-Targhee National Forest in eastern Idaho. The photos of the deformed fish were included in an appendix to a 694-page study commissioned by Simplot and prepared by Formation Environmental, of Boulder, Colo., and HabiTech, of Laramie, Wyoming. Bizarre as it may seem, Simplot has attempted to use the report to pushregulators to allow higher levels of selenium in local streams.
Simplot’s research of the mine’s impact on the environment was harshly criticized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which concluded in its own report that the company’s science was “highly questionable” and riddled with “confounded data.”
This is not the first time that selenium has been implicated in wildlife deformities. In the early 1980s it was discovered that 65% of birds nesting near the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge in Central California had protruding brains, missing eyes and feet and deformed beaks, legs and wings as a result of accumulated selenium from agricultural drainage water.
The amount of selenium in human drinking water has been regulated since 1974. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “The major sources of selenium in drinking water are discharge from petroleum and metal refineries; erosion of natural deposits; and discharge from mines.”
- David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
After Denial, Photos Show 2-Headed Trout (by Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole News)
Mutated Trout Raise New Concerns Near Mine Sites (by Leslie Kaufman, New York Times)
Technical Review: Smoky Canyon Mine Site-Specific Selenium Criterion Report (by Joseph Skorupa, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) (pdf)

Selenium Case Study: Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge (North Trinity Lake Online) (pdf) 


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