EPA: Cook Inlet leads state in pollutants

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2002

KENAI (AP) -- Cook Inlet leads the state in manufacturing-related toxic discharges, with more than 1.67 million pounds of toxic pollutants released into the air, land and water in and around the inlet in 2000, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Other EPA data show that the nearly 534 million pounds of toxic releases coming from mines and power plants ranked Alaska fourth overall among all states for releases from non-manufacturing industries.

Agrium's Nikiski fertilizer plant led Alaska manufacturing facilities with releases totaling 1.46 million pounds of toxic chemicals, according to EPA's latest Toxics Release Inventory, made public last week. That was the bulk of the releases on the Kenai Peninsula.

But Denise Newbould, environmental health and safety superintendent for Agrium, said nearly all the waste emitted from the Agrium complex is ammonia, which is not harmful in low quantities. Ammonia, which is used to boost nitrogen in the soil, does not accumulate in the environment as other pollutants can, Newbould said.

''If you are not exposed to a large quantity all at once, there is no danger. It doesn't cause cancer, it doesn't attack organs, and it doesn't harm fetuses or anything,'' she said.

Agrium and its predecessor, Unocal, have cut emissions from the plant by more than 95 percent over the past decade or so, she said.

The EPA report ranks Alaska fourth-highest in volume of toxic mining releases behind Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

In Alaska, Red Dog Mine in Kotzebue tops the mining industry list, accounting for 83 percent of releases in 2000. Red Dog ranked No. 2 on EPA's list of mining facilities nationwide, up from fifth a year earlier.

In Red Dog's case, the toxic release is the huge amount of waste rock the mine moves each year.

The rock contains naturally occurring metals such as like lead and zinc, which can be toxic to humans in large amounts. The metals can leach out and cause contamination unless they're properly contained, the agency said.

Behind Red Dog on the Alaska list are the Kennecott Greens Creek Mine near Juneau and the Fort Knox Mine near Fairbanks.

Like Red Dog, most of the toxins at Fort Knox are naturally occurring elements contained in waste rock, said Clyde Gillespie, senior environmental engineer at Fairbanks Gold Mining, the mine's operator.

That's true, said Mara Bacsujlaky, executive director of Neighborhood Mine Watch. But the rock is exposed to the elements, increasing the risk of toxic materials being released into the environment, she said. ''It's leaving a toxic legacy.''

Some 23,000 factories, refineries, mines, power plants and chemical manufacturers across the nation self-report their emissions to the EPA. Releases for all those industries totaled 7.1 billion pounds in 2000. Those industries reported creating 37.89 billion pounds of production-related wastes in all, most of it treated or disposed of, rather than released. That figure was nearly 8.4 billion pounds greater than in 1998.

The oil and gas industries were not required to submit pollution data for the report.


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