The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced this week that P4 Production LLC (P4), a mining and phosphorus processing company 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 to the penalty, P4 will spend an estimated $875,000 on monitoring and to prevent pollutants from entering local waters.
“The Justice Department and the EPA are committed to enforcing the Clean Water Act to reduce pollution from mining and mineral processing operations," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. "Clean water is essential for human health, as well as for healthy livestock, fish, and wildlife. Today's settlement agreement will make Idaho's waters cleaner by preventing selenium and other hazardous pollutants generated by P4's mining operations from entering local creeks and wetlands.”
“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 of part Idaho, and this enforcement action by EPA is one part of the long-term effort to clean up the phosphate patch.”
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.
Under the terms of the Consent Decree, P4 will pay the United States $1.4 million and it agrees to:
-- 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
The settlement is part of EPA’s enforcement initiative to reduce pollution from mining and mineral processing operations. Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector, waste that when not properly managed, can impact surrounding communities and pose a serious risk to public health and the environment, say EPA officials.
The settlement was lodged in the District Court of Idaho. There will be a 30-day public comment period during which the United States will accept comments on the settlements before it is presented to the court for entry.