By Letter to the Editor on February 16, 2021.
Alberta has some experience with monitoring coal mines on the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies.
As I have recently learned, three mines in central Alberta were monitored for years, recording selenium levels in creeks multiple times what is recommended for human consumption. Was anything done about it? Not to my knowledge.
The results were not made public until recently during the present backlash. And that selenium pollution continued years after the mines ceased operation. Meanwhile the public were drinking water for years unaware that it was polluted.
What could have been done about it? Not much. Approval had been given for the mines to operate, and monitoring the amount of pollution made no difference. It was akin to monitoring the number of people with COVID-19 when you have no ability to do anything about it.
Fast forward to 2021, and the cancellation of the policy prohibiting mining on the Eastern Slopes. As a result of the backlash, the government informed us that it was not a complete cancellation, but an update and improvement over the outdated policy. The problem is, approval had already been given for multi-national companies to build roads and do exploratory drilling even before a new policy is established, which is ‘getting the cart before the horse,’ and which causes me to wonder what assurances these companies have been given that approval of future mining operations will be approved.
Now to my point.
Sonya Savage has tried to quell public fears, saying the new policy (when it arrives) will contain adequate safeguards and monitoring. But that is too late.
Once contracts have been approved for mining operations, and selenium is in the water no amount of monitoring the consequent selenium pollution will make any difference except to let us know how bad it is-if it is made public! The headwaters of these rivers run through Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and all points in between, as well as into Saskatchewan.
My final question is, where are we going to get the water if these rivers become too polluted to drink? Selenium is a heavy metal and boiling won’t help!