P4 Production, a mining and phosphorus processing company wholly-owned by Monsanto, will pay a $1.4 million civil penalty for Clean Water Act violations at its South Rasmussen Mine in Idaho, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials said.
In addition to the penalty, P4 will spend $875,000 on monitoring to prevent pollutants from entering local waters.
“The Justice Department and the EPA are committed to enforcing the Clean Water Act to reduce pollution from mining and mineral processing operations,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “Clean water is essential for human health, as well as for healthy livestock, fish, and wildlife. Today’s settlement agreement will make Idaho’s waters cleaner by preventing selenium and other hazardous pollutants generated by P4’s mining operations from entering local creeks and wetlands.”
“Selenium pollution is a serious problem in this part of Idaho, and this enforcement action by EPA is one part of the long-term effort to clean up the phosphate patch,” said Edward Kowalski, director for EPA’s Seattle Office of Enforcement and Compliance.
EPA officials said P4 discharged wastewater containing high concentrations of selenium and heavy metals from a waste rock dump at the mine without a required permit. Further, P4’s unpermitted discharges — which contained selenium levels far above Idaho’s state water quality standards — polluted a nearby wetland and an unnamed tributary of Sheep Creek, as well as downstream waters that drain to the Snake River, officials said.
Phosphate mines in the area, including the South Rasmussen Mine, contain high levels of selenium in their waste rock. Rainwater and weathering allow the selenium to leach from the waste rock piles and enter nearby surface water. Officials have linked selenium contamination of plants to sheep, horse, and cattle deaths in southeast Idaho. Selenium in high concentrations can be toxic to a variety of fish and wildlife and is also known to bio-accumulate, and affect organisms in the aquatic food chain. Monsanto uses phosphate from the South Rasmussen Mine to manufacture Roundup.
Under the terms of the Consent Decree, P4 will pay $1.4 million and it agrees to:
• Continue collecting selenium-contaminated leachate from the waste rock pile and prevent those from entering nearby creeks and wetlands until such time as the company either obtains an NPDES permit, or it undertakes a restoration of the waste rock dump under another state or federal order.
• Perform downstream monitoring for a period of five years to ensure that selenium-contaminated water is no longer leaving the site.