Accidents spills 40 tons of zinc concentrate near Red Dog Mine

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Strong winds Friday were keeping workers from cleaning up about 40 tons of zinc concentrate that spilled when a Cominco Alaska truck overturned on the road from the Red Dog Mine to the port facility.

''Unfortunately, the weather isn't cooperating with us,'' said Wayne Hall, environmental coordinator for the Cominco-operated mine northeast of Kotzebue, on Friday night. ''Zinc concentrate is dry and fine like talcum powder and when it's this windy, the last thing you want to do is to try and pick it up.''

Workers covered the spill with tarps set up shortly after the truck pulling two trailers left the road and flipped about 5 p.m. Thursday. Hall said the driver miscalculated the width of the road because of blowing snow.

About half the zinc concentrate spilled from each of the overturned trailers. It covered a 100-foot section of the road embankment and 50 feet of the adjoining tundra, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, which is investigating the incident.

''The potential danger here would be the contaminant being spread by the wind,'' said DEC environmental specialist Walt Sandel. He said the nearest body of water is a mile and a half away, and that the nearest community is Kivalina, about 50 miles away.

It's impossible to determine how much of the powdery concentrate blew away before spill response crews covered the spill, according to Hall. He said the crews arrived fairly quickly with the tarps, which are stored in a warehouse about four and a half miles away.

Sandel said he did not know the toxicity of the substance because he was unsure of its chemical makeup.

Hall said 55 percent of the concentrate is zinc metal, about 3 percent lead and the rest components of rock ore such as sulfides and irons.

''It's not an immediately toxic or dangerous material although metal ingestion is something you want to avoid,'' Hall said.

The weather had calmed by Friday morning, allowing workers to set the truck and one of the trailers upright before the winds picked up again, gusting up to 40 mph, Sandel said.

The break in the weather also let workers set up equipment for the cleanup job ahead, Hall said.

''We're ready to roll,'' he said. ''When depends on the weather.''

The spill comes less than three months after a Cominco truck jackknifed, spilling 30 tons of lead concentrate on the road to the port facility. In the October incident, bad weather also delayed the cleanup.

The mine 90 miles northeast of Kotzebue is among the largest lead and zinc mines in the world.

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