Idaho mining company fined for toxic wastewater discharges

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 20, 2011 -- Mining company P4 Production operating near Soda Springs in southeast Idaho has agreed to pay a $1.4 million civil penalty for alleged Clean Water Act violations at its South Rasmussen Mine...

Apr 20th, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 20, 2011 -- P4 Production, a mining and phosphorus processing company wholly-owned by Monsanto and operating near Soda Springs in southeast Idaho, has agreed to pay a $1.4 million civil penalty for alleged Clean Water Act violations at its South Rasmussen Mine. In addition, P4 will spend an estimated $875,000 on monitoring and to prevent pollutants from entering local waters.

According to the complaint, P4 allegedly discharged wastewater containing high concentrations of selenium and heavy metals from a waste rock dump at the mine without a required permit. Further, P4's unpermitted discharges -- which contained selenium levels far above Idaho's state water quality standards -- allegedly polluted a nearby wetland and an unnamed tributary of Sheep Creek, as well as downstream waters that drain to the Snake River.

Phosphate mines in the area, including the South Rasmussen Mine, are known to contain high levels of selenium in their waste rock. Rainwater and weathering allow the selenium to leach from the waste rock piles and enter nearby surface water. Sheep, horse, and cattle deaths in southeast Idaho have been linked to selenium contamination of plants. Selenium in high concentrations can be toxic to a variety of fish and wildlife and is also known to bio-accumulate, and affect organisms in the aquatic food chain. Monsanto uses phosphate from the South Rasmussen Mine to manufacture Roundup.

"Today's settlement resolves a long-standing hazard to fish, wildlife and the environment in Southeast Idaho," said Edward Kowalski, director for EPA's Seattle Office of Enforcement and Compliance. "Selenium pollution is a serious problem in this part of Idaho, and this enforcement action by EPA is one part of the long-term effort to clean up the phosphate patch."

Under the agreement, P4 will pay the U.S. $1.4 million and:

• Continue collecting selenium-contaminated leachate from the waste rock pile and prevent those from entering nearby creeks and wetlands until such time as the company either obtains an NPDES permit, or it undertakes a restoration of the waste rock dump under another state or federal order
• Perform downstream monitoring for a period of five years to ensure that selenium-contaminated water is no longer leaving the site

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