Yet another environmental scare has proven to be unjustified alarmism.
The Alaska Division of Public Health has issued a report reassuring people living near the Red Dog zinc mine that berries and greens from the area are perfectly safe.
The false alarm was issued in June by Alaska Community Action on Toxics, an environmental the-sky-is-falling group based in Anchorage. It claimed that berries and greens collected from villagers living in the mine area had very high levels of lead and were unsafe to consume.
Apparently its warning was based in part on a Department of Environmental Conservation spreadsheet that contained formatting errors.
''In fact,'' state health officials reported, ''Point Hope salmonberries contained the lowest levels of lead detected in berries.''
The state agency also said that concentrations of heavy metals in water, soil, caribou, fish and berry samples collected from the area of the mine pose no public health hazards to residents of Kivalina and Noatak, the two closest villages to the site. Noatak is 45 miles from the mine and Kivalina is about 17 miles from its loading port.
State health officials said residents of the two villages should continue unrestricted harvest and consumption of subsistence foods throughout Northwest Alaska.
They noted that the public is excluded from the mine's port area, where soil samples contain higher concentrations of lead and zinc. Most were apparently deposited there before the mine operators began hauling ore in sealed containers rather than open trucks.
The National Park Service reported that some lead dust has drifted over tundra in the area, but at low-enough levels that it will not affect subsistence foods. Such dust is heavy and unlikely to drift far from its source.
Red Dog is a joint venture of NANA Regional Corp. and Teck Cominco, a Canadian mining company. It is the largest employer in the Kotzebue area and produces 6 percent of the world's zinc supply.
Heavy metals are potentially harmful substances and their impact on the environment and subsistence foods needs to be monitored by health agencies. That is being done and the results have been very encouraging.
What is not needed is unfounded alarmism by environmental scare groups.
As a mine official put it, the false assertion that subsistence foods in the region are unsafe to eat, ''is a very irresponsible statement and is simply not the truth.''
The Voice of the Times - Aug. 20
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