Canada’s Agrium wants US to share mine clean-up costs

09 September 2009 19:06  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Canadian fertilizer maker Agrium did not return calls for comment on Wednesday regarding a lawsuit a subsidiary filed against the US government, accusing it of imposing environmental procedures that actually caused selenium pollution at four phosphate mines.

Agrium's US mining unit, Nu-West Industries, wants the US government to share the cost of cleaning up toxic selenium pollution from the four mines, according to a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Idaho.

Already, Agrium’s Nu-West said it had spent more than $10m to investigate and clean up pollution at the four mines.

It contends the government "has not cooperated in any fashion" - from refusing to help compensate a rancher who had to euthanise five selenium-poisoned horses in 1996 to balking on approval of the company's clean-up plan.

One of the federal agencies sued by Agrium, the Bureau of Land Management, did not return calls for comment. The  US Forest Service said it does not comment on pending litigations,

Agrium said it has worked diligently to investigate and remediate the mine sites since 1997 and that the US has not cooperated in any fashion.

Among other things, Agrium said federal regulators in the 1970s were responsible for designing and ordering waste disposal methods that resulted in selenium pollution.

"The US directed historic mine operators to construct massive cross-valley fill waste dumps …large enough to fill a valley from side-to-side and to cover the stream bed at the valley bottom," Agrium said.

"The US's defective cross-valley fill designs have particularly harmful environmental impacts," the company said.

Agrium has not actively worked the four historic mines, but holds leases at sites previously operated by other companies.

They include South Maybe Canyon Mine and the 44-year-old North Maybe Mine, blamed for wiping out Yellowstone cutthroat trout in one tributary of the Blackfoot River. It is among 15 southeastern Idaho waterways where selenium exceeds legal state levels.

Selenium occurs naturally in southeastern Idaho and is unearthed along with phosphate ore. If not contained, it can move downstream in groundwater or accumulate in some plants. At high concentrations, it is deadly for animals.

"This lawsuit and a related administrative appeal are the next step in the company's attempt to cut through the red tape and get clean-up work under way," Agrium said in a statement. "It is time to determine the federal government's responsibility and then get on with remediation."

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By: Frank Zaworski
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